The Next Great Pipeline Debate - and U.S. Funding

Gary Mason
The Globe and Mail
September 29, 2011


Look at what’s going on in the United States right now and you can see just how dirty things can get. Debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has been rancorous and divisive. In the end, concern for jobs is likely to trump worries over the pipeline’s environmental impact.
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The movement against Keystone has mostly played itself out in America. But the next great pipeline debate will unfold right here in Canada. The stage is already being set.

National Geographic recently devoted a cover spread to the pending tussle over the proposed $5.5-billion, 1,700-kilometre Enbridge pipeline. It would run from Edmonton to the coastal port town of Kitimat, B.C., where, in theory, tankers bound for energy-thirsty markets in Asia would fill up with Alberta crude.

“Pipeline through paradise,” was the headline on the National Geographic story. In it, Ian McAllister, co-founder of the Canadian wilderness protection organization Pacific Wild, said Enbridge will precipitate the biggest environmental battle the country has ever witnessed. “It’s going to be a bare-knuckle fight.”

Opposition to Enbridge largely centres on concerns over an Exxon Valdez-scale spill befouling one of the most pristine and ecologically sacred places on Earth: the Great Bear Rainforest, a 64,000-square-kilometre area that’s home to the rare Kermode (white) bear. Lining up behind environmental groups in opposition to the pipeline are the Coastal First Nations.

It goes without saying that the project represents potential billions in revenue for Alberta and the federal government, not to mention thousands of jobs. In fragile economic times, it’ll be difficult for Ottawa to turn its back on the deal.

The debate over Enbridge is likely to take many different turns before it runs its course. But one of the talking points could well be the role that American charitable foundations are playing in Canadian environmental politics.

The federal government recently said no to a funding agreement to develop a Pacific North Coast oceans management plan. Environmentalists accused Ottawa of bending to pressure from the West Coast shipping industry and big oil interests, allegedly concerned that the oceans plan was a cover to oppose the Enbridge pipeline. (Both groups deny lobbying the feds to torpedo the oceans strategy.)

The Conservative government may also have been concerned by the findings of researcher Vivian Krause. In the past few years, the tenacious Vancouver-based and independently financed writer has parted the curtains on the extent to which environmental groups in Canada are funded by American organizations. (Her website, fair-questions.com, is visited regularly by everyone from the RCMP to the federal auditor-general to the Oval Office in Washington.)

Environmental groups doing preparatory work on the oceans management plan had received nearly $30-million in funding from the U.S. green donor, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of California, before Ottawa killed the initiative.

According to Ms. Krause’s examination of U.S. tax returns, American foundations have spent about $300-million since 2000 funding the environmental movement in Canada. In recent years, some of that money has gone toward fighting tanker traffic along the B.C. coast.

In 2006, for instance, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund of New York paid a couple of Canadian environmental groups a total of $200,000 to “prevent the development of a tanker port and pipeline that would endanger the Great Bear Rainforest.” The Brainerd Foundation of Washington State gave money to the B.C.-based Dogwood Initiative to “help grow public opposition to counter the Enbridge pipeline construction.”

Ms. Krause estimates there’s $50-million in American funding pouring into the Canadian environmental movement every year. “The heart of the matter is the sovereignty of our country,” says Ms. Krause, who has no declared link to the oil industry. “Canadian policy and law should be decided by Canadians, not by American foundations. The Canadians on the front lines of these environmental initiatives are every bit as Canadian as I am, but their billionaire funders aren't.”

It’s not difficult to imagine this line of thinking becoming part of the Enbridge narrative. Nor is it hard to envisage it being embraced by a federal government looking for any reason to make this project happen.

But be certain: The only thing messier than oil itself is the debate that surrounds it.

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