New pipeline plan can’t obscure Keystone XL failure: Tim Harper

Tim Harper
All of Thursday’s high-fiving and talk of “nation-building” among politicians and the oil industry over a proposed west-east oil pipeline cannot obscure what has so far been an abject failure on another crucial energy proposal.

When the cheering over Energy East subsides, it will face its own opposition from environmentalists and, perhaps, Quebec.

But before that, federal and provincial politicians and TransCanada still have the debacle which is the Keystone XL proposal.
They all share the blame for this stalled project, but they are also sharing it with politicians south of the border, starting at the White House.

The ongoing Keystone morass has become so politicized that questions of whether Barack Obama’s rejection would damage Canada-U.S. relations have been supplanted by questions of how much damage has already been done during a protracted decision-making process which remains unresolved.
The latest week in pipeline politics began when Obama lowballed the number of jobs that would be created by Keystone, telling the New York Times with “a chuckle” that following completion of the pipeline a mere 50 to 100 jobs might be created.

He also said Canada “could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release” at the tarsands.

Regardless of the merit of that comment — and polls show most Canadians would agree with him — it is extremely rare for the leader of one country to publicly call out an ally and neighbour on its domestic policy, whether or not it has cross-border implications.

Irritation in Canada was understandable, forcing our envoy in Washington and Harper’s office to push back on both jobs and climate change policy.

Obama was reiterating what his former U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, had been saying, that the Harper government had to provide Washington with more environmental cover for pipeline approval.

But Obama has no one to deliver the message in Ottawa.

In what has to be considered another bilateral irritant, he has not replaced Jacobson and no one is on the horizon, leaving a huge vacancy in the capital of America’s largest trading partner.

In the wake of Obama’s statement, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, may have overstepped in characterizing the oil export question as a choice between trains or pipelines.

Such a statement sounded like a challenge to the Obama administration, paid lip service to the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., and ignored the fact that as the volume of oil carried by rail increases, so will the opposition to such traffic.

Perhaps we’ve merely seen an irritated president “trash-talking” his Republican tormenters who have been throwing Keystone inaction in his face for ages.
Perhaps he was thinking only domestic politics, not Canadian sensibilities.

But he didn’t misspeak. He has twice delivered a similar message this week, and his spokesperson has not softened the president’s comments.

If he is trying to gain leverage with Ottawa for more action on climate change, Republicans say, he is now adding new conditions to the project, reaching beyond American jurisdiction and fundamentally changing the criteria on which such decisions are based. Now they are accusing him of damaging Canada-U.S. relations.

“What was once a standard, apolitical process for approving pipelines with an allied friend and neighbour in Canada, a country with which we have a decades-long free trade agreement, has now become an embarrassment,” a trio of Congressional Republicans from the energy and commerce committee wrote to Obama.

There has been a never-ending parade of Canadian and provincial politicians making the case for Keystone in Washington.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has raised the issue with Obama at every turn, but Obama is either not taking his brief on the issue or deliberately ignoring it.

Alberta shunned advice to reach out to key states to build allies and has clearly been unable to convince the White House it is mindful of the need to develop the tarsands in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Ottawa, from Harper to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, has characterized Keystone as such a logical policy choice that it could not be stopped. TransCanada blustered ahead as if it was dealing with a fait accompli.

Obama punted Keystone once for political purposes and a decision expected in 2013 could now bleed into the next year.
Approval could still be coming, but a man who will not again face the electorate may be looking for a legacy issue and rejection of Keystone could be part of a larger climate change legacy.

Canadian politicians may have unwittingly helped hand it to him.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

The Magnuson amendment bans supertanker exports out of Puget Sound

The full text of the Act (S.1522) is available in PDF format online (also available here: 33 U.S.C. 476 – Restrictions on tanker traffic in Puget Sound and adjacent waters, background information available at: ). Here’s the relevant excerpt:

SEC. 5. (a) The Congress finds that—

(1) the navigable waters of Puget Sound in the State of Washington, and the natural resources therein, are a fragile and important national asset;

(2) Puget Sound and the shore area immediately adjacent thereto is threatened by increased domestic and international traffic of tankers carrying crude oil in bulk which increases the possibility of vessel collisions and oil spills; and

(3) it is necessary to restrict such tanker traffic in Puget Sound in order to protect the navigable waters thereof, the natural resources therein, and the shore area immediately adjacent thereto, from environmental harm.

(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, on and after the date of enactment of this section, no officer, employee, or other official of the Federal Government shall, or shall have authority to, issue, renew, grant, or otherwise approve any permit, license, or other authority for constructing, renovating, modifying, or otherwise altering a terminal, dock, or other facility in, on, or immediately adjacent to, or affecting the navigable waters of Puget Sound, or any other navigable waters in the State of Washington east of Port Angeles, which will or may result in any increase in the volume of crude oil capable of being handled at any such facility (measured as of the date of enactment of this section), other than oil to be refined for consumption in the State of Washington.

Lummi Nation’s stance could stop proposed coal terminal

Lummi Nation Natural Resources Director Merle Jefferson says the tribe is ready to send an official letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcing its opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point – a move that could stop the federal permit process for the coal terminal dead in its tracks.

The Army Corps has the authority to grant some key permits that SSA Marine of Seattle will need in order to construct its three-vessel pier at Cherry Point. On other projects, the federal agency has refused to process permit applications if Indian tribes contend that those projects would violate their treaty rights as defined by numerous federal court rulings.

During a Wednesday, July 31, press conference, an Army Corps official stopped short of saying that Lummi Nation has the power to block Gateway Pacific. But she indicated that her agency might decide to stop processing its permits if the Lummis raise formal objections.

Muffy Walker, Army Corps of Engineers regulatory branch chief in Seattle, said her agency was aware that Lummi leaders had spoken out against Gateway Pacific, but the federal agency had not received a “formal response” from the tribe saying they see no chance of reaching an agreement with SSA Marine to compensate for the project’s impacts.

“If the Lummis come to that position, it will make us reassess the direction we are going,” Walker said. “We have denied permits in the past, based on tribal concerns.”

Jefferson said tribal officials had assumed that their position was clear in the 34 pages of objections they had offered the Corps and other regulatory agencies as part of the environmental study scope process. Among other things, tribal officials say the project will interfere with tribal fishing and disrupt an important cultural site.

Once Lummi officials learned that the Corps wanted a formal letter notifying them of the tribe’s position, the tribal council quickly agreed to draft that letter. Jefferson said that letter should be on its way to the Corps by Friday, Aug. 2.

Jefferson also stopped short of saying that the tribe has the power to block the project. He did say that the tribe has a strong legal position based on treaty rights.

Lummi officials took a non-committal stance on Gateway Pacific when it was first announced, saying the tribe would take no position until its impacts got thorough study. The tribal newspaper published a series of reports outlining benefits as well as drawbacks from the project, and reported that SSA Marine had provided the tribe with $400,000 to help the tribe pay for its own study of the project.

But by September 2012, after an upwelling of opposition from tribal members, tribal council representatives met on the beach at Cherry Point to announce firm opposition to the project. Later in the fall, tribal officials were outspoken in their opposition when county, state and federal officials convened meetings to gather public comments.

SSA Marine Vice President Bob Watters said his company wants to continue to work with Lummi Nation to resolve the tribe’s concerns on both fishing rights and possible disruption of ancient tribal burials believed to exist at the site.

“We are committed to addressing Lummi concerns in detail,” Watters said in an email. “Our approach will be first to avoid impacts, then to minimize unavoidable impacts, and finally, to mitigate and positively address what remaining impacts there may be in a mutually satisfactory way.”

Watters added that his company is now conducting a study on the impacts of vessel traffic to the terminal site, with input from Lummi officials.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or Read his Politics blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

Massive petroleum coke cloud blows from Detroit into Windsor

The massive cloud of dust sweeping across the Detroit River was thick and black. Within seconds of spotting it, Windsor resident Randy Emerson knew, with a sinking feeling, exactly what it was.

“Is that the pet coke?” Emerson, who captured stunning YouTube footage of the cloud on his cellphone at the Windsor waterfront on Saturday evening, asked his wife.

“Oh my God,” he concluded. “Yep — that’s pet coke.”

For months, tall black piles of petroleum coke, commonly called pet coke, have been controversially stored on industrial property in Detroit near the Ambassador Bridge, prompting concerns from local residents over potential environmental and health impacts.

According to Emerson, a member of the Windsor on Watch environmental group, those fears came to fruition on Saturday.

“Pet coke shouldn’t be stored on a riverfront, that’s for sure. It should be in a building,” he said of the byproduct of Alberta heavy crude, which is used as a cheap replacement for coal.

Detroit Bulk Storage, the company responsible for storing the pet coke, did not return calls from the Star on Wednesday.
A company spokesman told the Windsor Star that the dust cloud was caused by high winds that blew in just as inventory was being loaded onto a ship. The company uses an epoxy seal to contain the dust, but the seal has to be broken to load the material onto the vessel, he said.

The pet coke piles were produced at Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in Detroit and are owned by Koch Carbon, a company owned by the American billionaire Koch brothers, famed for their support of conservative political causes.

Detroit billionaire Matty Moroun’s real-estate entity, Crown Enterprises, owns the property where pet coke is being stored. But according to Crown Enterprises president Michael Samhat, Norfolk Southern has a perpetual lease for the land, and is responsible for subcontracting its use.

Detroit Bulk announced earlier this month that it has stopped accepting shipments of pet coke. Koch Carbon, which did not respond to a request for comment, has said that

it plans to store the pet coke in another, as yet unnamed, state.

Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), said pet coke, which is nearly pure carbon, is non-toxic. But MDEQ has long had concerns about the impact of “fugitive dust in the air” unleashed when the product is loaded onto barges.

“Especially for folks who’ve got compromised lung systems, it’s not good,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.”

Wurfel expects the piles to be gone by mid-August. But as the pet coke is being moved off-site, he warned, “It is entirely foreseeable that there may be another dust event.”