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.