Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Michael Levi thinks the decision to delay, and possibly kill, the Keystone XL Pipeline is short-sighted, and will redound to ill effect upon the environmentalists that are celebrating today.
I should say at the outset that I am more inclined towards supporting Keystone than against, because the choice may be between selling Tarsands oil to the Americans through Keystone vs. selling it to the Chinese through Northern Gateway. I wrote once:
To me, the best/only way to "green" the tar-sands is to sell any oil from them to our American cousins exclusively, and wait for their federal and state governments to force change upon the oil patch. Harper and Co. are controlled by Western Petro interests, but to the Yankees Alberta doesn't amount to a patch of dickweed.
But I must say that Mr. Levi's main pro-Keystone argument today strikes me as terribly naive. The core of it is:
For green groups, the shortest route to blocking fossil fuel development appears to be leveraging local opposition. Many will seek to turn this not only against the Canadian oil sands but against United States oil production and coal exports, too. At the same time, they will find themselves increasingly appealing to the federal government for help in overriding local opposition to wind farms, solar plants, long distance transmission lines and other critical pieces of zero-carbon infrastructure. These two endeavors will conflict.
Energy experts often note that it would be impossible to recreate today’s energy infrastructure, given the intensity of opposition to pretty much any new development. The environmentalists’ victory against Keystone XL will only reinforce that judgment. But realizing their broader vision — a low-carbon economy that enhances the nation’s security and helps avoid dangerous climate change — will require defeating the same sort of local opposition that they have just embraced.
But the scenario Levi outlines had already arrived pre-Keystone. For example, the anti-wind/anti-solar campaigns here in Ontario during the last provincial election were perfect examples of local groups trying to block green energy projects: the NIMBY's behind them complained about about the "annoyance" caused by turbines that occasionally exceeded 45 decibels, and solar arrays that looked ugly when viewed a mile off from the decks of their cottages.
But these folk did not get much sympathy from the broader community and, to their credit, the major environmental groups stayed well away from their cause. In any case, the take-away point is that with every project the balance between local vs. general concerns will be different, and enviros will have to find their way forward on a case-by-case basis. I suspect most of them know this already, but Mr. Levi has apparently just realized the, and is startled by it.