Repeal Sect. 526

Aug. 19, 2013
If the US can't act friendly with its neighbor to the north, it at least should refrain from outright hostility. Current US policy makes appeasement of extreme environmentalists more important than relations with Canada.

If the US can't act friendly with its neighbor to the north, it at least should refrain from outright hostility. Current US policy makes appeasement of extreme environmentalists more important than relations with Canada. A chill is inevitable with the Conservative Party leading the Canadian government and liberal Democrats controlling the US Senate and White House. Through energy policy, however, Washington, DC, acts determined to make things altogether icy.

The most visible rebuke is persistent refusal by the Obama administration to approve border transit of the Keystone XL pipeline. The administration hasn't rejected the project, which would connect the oil sands of Alberta with natural markets on the US Gulf Coast. Outright rejection would be foolish—economically, militarily, and diplomatically. But perpetual delay accomplishes the same thing. The administration has ducked action on Keystone XL with redundant studies and now says it won't grant approval unless someone can show the project won't, in President Obama's words in a June 25 speech, "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." That can mean anything. Obama has no intention of approving Keystone XL because doing so would enrage his environmentalist supporters.

More obstruction

US obstruction of Canadian oil sands development doesn't end there. Other outlets for Albertan production are proposed to cross British Columbia to the Pacific, connecting the oil sands region with seaborne trade. But they face environmental opposition, too. Canadians know much of the funding for that activism comes from the US. They have strong reason to resent the interference.

The pipeline politics won't change. Environmentalists want to foreclose production from the oil sands, which they correctly see as a major new source of supply of economic energy from hydrocarbons and therefore deadly competition for uneconomic energy from renewable sources. So they demonize oil sands products as "dirty oil," ignoring the impressive technologies oil sands development has spawned for everything from lowering energy requirements for steam generation to land reclamation and, soon, to carbon capture and sequestration. Obama has made clear he won't contradict them, Canada be damned.

This is an inexcusably cavalier way to treat a good neighbor. Canadians seem to understand it reflects street-level politics by a career activist who won't be president forever. But that doesn't make the snub any less regrettable.

Congress has a chance to repair some of the damage. Both houses have legislation that would repeal a nasty piece of law Canadians have reason to find especially annoying. Sect. 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 prevents federal agencies from procuring for transport use "an alternative or synthetic fuel, including a fuel produced from nonconventional petroleum sources" unless life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with it are lower than those of conventional fuels. The provision means the US military can't buy fuels derived from products of the Canadian oil sands.

Like Keystone XL sand-bagging, Sect. 526 represents a US thumb in the Canadian eye, jammed there to help environmental groups flog an issue they've rendered iconic in order to raise funds recyclable into Democratic political donations. Environmental groups support Sect. 526 by saying it promotes military research of biofuels, ignoring how it denies the armed services access to a secure, nearby source of oil. The ramifications of that view for national security are frightening. It's nevertheless shared by supporters of expensive boondoggles such as the Navy's "Great Green Fleet."

Superior leadership

Superior leadership has emerged in Congress. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal Sect. 526, and Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) filed a similar bill in the House. Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.) has proposed amendments to deny Sect. 526 funding to several appropriations bills.

The bipartisanship raises hope Congress will end one misguided assault by the US against Canadian prosperity and American energy security. Obama's obedience to environmental activism leaves Keystone XL—and all the diplomatic value, energy security, and economic benefit that should come with it—in greater doubt.