NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

Joe Biden and the Salish Sea: Will cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline mean Alberta’s bitumen crude oil is headed to our waters?

When long­time, long-wind­ed Sen­a­tor Joe Biden was tapped as Barack Obama’s run­ning mate in 2008, Repub­li­can foe John McCain chor­tled to an aide: “Well, good for Joe. But, boy, Oba­ma will nev­er get a word in edge­wise now.”

A very dif­fer­ent Joe Biden will be sworn in Wednes­day at noon East­ern (9 AM Pacif­ic) as America’s forty-sixth pres­i­dent. He is still emo­tion­al – wit­ness the Delaware going-away cer­e­mo­ny Tues­day – but has learned to be brief, suc­cinct and focused on right­ing the ship of state. Bor­row­ing the George H.W. Bush phrase, he is tak­ing charge of a coun­try in the “deep doo-doo.”

Amidst the flur­ry of exec­u­tive orders expect­ed is a major Biden action direct­ed at thwart­ing cli­mate dam­age. It’s an action that will have rever­ber­a­tions for Wash­ing­ton, British Colum­bia and the Sal­ish Sea. Our new pres­i­dent is expect­ed to ter­mi­nate the Key­stone XL pipeline as one of his first acts in office.

The con­tro­ver­sial pipeline is designed to car­ry 800,000 bar­rels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alber­ta through Mon­tana, South Dako­ta, South Dako­ta, Nebras­ka, Kansan and Okla­homa, bound for refiner­ies on the Gulf Coast.

Already, there is yelp­ing from the Great White North.

“We hope Pres­i­dent-elect Biden will show respect for Cana­da and sit down at the very least and talk to us,” said Alberta’s drill-baby-drill Pre­mier Jason Ken­ney. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau did not exact­ly raise a bat­tle flag, say­ing: “Our gov­ern­ment is mak­ing sure Canada’s views are heard and con­sid­ered by the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion at the high­est levels.”

The “high­est lev­els” mean Biden’s cli­mate advis­er, ex-Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry, who rec­om­mend­ed in 2015 that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma reject Key­stone XL. Oba­ma pulled the plug, but Trump gave green light to the project in 2017.

How does that impact us?

Pos­i­tive­ly, in that it impedes extrac­tion of bitu­men crude and Alberta’s role as a cen­ter of a car­bon econ­o­my that fuels glob­al warming.

We see it on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

Our win­ter snow­packs are shrink­ing, riv­er flows are down, droughts are more fre­quent, vast tracts of for­est have been killed by the pine bark bee­tle, and we’ve expe­ri­enced for­est and range land con­fla­gra­tions that British Colum­bia Pre­mier John Hor­gan has termed “the new normal.”

By pulling the plug on Key­stone XL, how­ev­er, Biden puts the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment on the spot to com­plete an even larg­er project.

The Trans-Moun­tain Pipeline expan­sion, if com­plet­ed, would have a capac­i­ty of 890,000 bar­rels a day. The oil would be head­ed this way, start­ing in Alber­ta and trav­el­ing through British Colum­bia to a pipeline ter­mi­nus in Burn­a­by, B.C. An expand­ed tank farm would be locat­ed on the road up to Simon Fras­er University.

The oil would be bound for export, mean­ing a sev­en­fold increase in tanker traf­fic through some of North America’s most sen­si­tive marine waters. The tankers will trav­el out Bur­rard Inlet, and through Haro Strait – which sep­a­rates our San Juan Islands and B.C.’s Gulf Islands – and hence out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The tankers will tra­verse feed­ing grounds of our south­ern res­i­dent orca whale pop­u­la­tion, pass the mouth of the Fras­er Riv­er – home to major and endan­gered sock­eye salmon runs – past pass both Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can nation­al park prop­er­ties. At the often-fog­gy mouth of the Strait, Olympic Nation­al Park is near­by to the South, Canada’s Pacif­ic Rim Nation­al Park near­by to the north.

Any tanker spill would be cat­a­stroph­ic, which is why Pre­mier Hor­gan and Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee have opposed Trans-Mountain.

But Cana­di­an courts have reject­ed efforts to block the project.

The Cana­di­ans’ response record, even with small spills, does not bol­ster con­fi­dence. At the behest of Trudeau’s Lib­er­als, the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment now owns the Trans-Moun­tain project, an indi­ca­tion of its commitment.

Want to see the envi­ron­ment at stake?

When win­ter snows melt, dri­ve to Deer Park in Olympic Nation­al Park, up a ver­ti­cal mile from marine waters.

The view looks up Haro Strait to world-renowned islands, down to Vic­to­ria, and part way out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Just as Vic­to­ria is no longer dump­ing sewage into the Strait, we face greater risk of a tanker spill..

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion will, of course, do much more in its ear­ly days.

The Unit­ed States will rejoin the Paris Cli­mate Accord. The new admin­is­tra­tion will tack­le an environment/climate agen­da that first took shape in Jay Inslee’s brief 2019 bid for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. Its pro­vi­sions for pro­tect­ing pub­lic lands first appeared as part of Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth Warren’s campaign.

Over the last half cen­tu­ry, the Northwest’s res­i­dents have kept the region liv­able, in part, by keep­ing bad things from happening.

The clear cut­ting of ancient forests on fed­er­al lands was stopped by spot­ted owl law­suits. Con­gress lim­it­ed tanker size in the Sal­ish Sea, pre­vent­ing any pipeline ter­mi­nus on the U.S. side of the border.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion tried to remove restraints and set the tim­ber indus­try, min­ing com­pa­nies and Big Oil loose on the pub­lic domain. It sought to dras­ti­cal­ly restrict pub­lic input allowed under the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act. It has sought to lift the Clin­ton-era “Road­less Rule” to open nine mil­lion acres of Alaska’s Ton­gass Nation­al For­est, to tim­ber har­vest and oth­er com­mer­cial activity.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion has made clear it intends to lift kids out of pover­ty, raise the min­i­mum wage, begin restor­ing the mid­dle class… and pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and address the cli­mate crisis.

Bold goals, which have the sup­port of Sen­a­tors Cantwell and Mur­ray, and Democ­rats in Washington’s con­gres­sion­al delegation.

At the same time, how­ev­er, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers promis­es to resist envi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives as rank­ing Repub­li­can mem­ber of the House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee. Expect her to be a reverse Rachel Car­son. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house chairs the West­ern Cau­cus, a group of Repub­li­can House mem­bers allied with the tim­ber, min­ing and oil/gas industries.

Pro­gres­sives will need to back the forty-sixth pres­i­dent, but make sure he will have our backs when it comes to safe­guard­ing shared waters of the Sal­ish Sea. Our wor­ries should be heard and con­sid­ered at the high­est level.

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