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Monday, January 20, 2020
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Dark money in oil and pipelines make the water more muddy

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The election of a Jason Kenney-led government means Alberta will be pushing to get tar sands oil flowing again at all costs, the environment included. Throw in an upcoming federal election and the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and it’s a good bet there will be additional pressure to do something for the West.

Kenney’s stance is clear. His right-wing government makes no pretence of weighing all sides of the debate. The Trudeau Liberals, however, are attempting to appear to be something to everyone on this issue.

We can expect plenty of vitriol, particularly from the energy companies eager to extract more resources, both in Alberta and everywhere else they have holdings. Climate-change researchers have estimated some 80 per cent of all carbon-based energy in the ground – coal, oil, natural gas – will have to remain there if we’re to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. Those with profits in mind are having no part of it.

A handful of wealthy oil barons have waged a decades-long war on taxation, government regulation and, most vehemently, climate science – they’ve spent hundreds of millions fomenting skepticism and doubt, while paying politicians to sing from their doctored hymn books. It’s an oligarchic formula that has brought American democracy to its knees, and one that has spread its tentacles across the border.

Ironically, while conservative politicians decried the efforts of “foreign groups” such as environmental organization to influence public perception of the tar sands, they said nothing about the infiltration of the Koch network and other foreigners in pushing for the extraction projects. Not to mention that most of the investment is in fact foreign.

Last month’s revelation that federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer pledged to crack down on foreign-funded groups while speaking at an extractive-industry event attended by those bent on influencing Canadian politics, including Trump operatives, comes at an awkward time for Scheer and Kenney, suggests the progressive non-profit group North99.

“Kenney made opposition to foreign-funded environmental groups central to his election campaign, promising to launch a $30 million ‘war room’ to wage a public relations battle against groups who interfere in the energy sector,” the group notes on its blog.

“Ironically, it appears that it is the Conservatives themselves who are opening the door to foreign actors – including Trump officials – to provide advice on how to influence Canadian politics.

“Conservatives are no strangers to foreign funding and influence. The Atlas Network, a Koch-funded organization, whose members include the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Manning Centre and the Fraser Institute, provided thousands of dollars in 2016 to right-wing Canadian partner organizations.”

The Atlas Network is connected to the web of dark money that has subverted the U.S. political system, particularly since the anti-democratic Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to a limitless supply of dirty funding and dirty tricks.

The Kochs, heavily invested in refineries and pipelines, have spent years combatting regulations against the industries in which they have holdings. Their tactics have been as underhanded and law-skirting as the way they run their businesses, which have been charged and fined numerous times for a range of violations. Given their involvement in the oilsands, you can bet their unethical practices don’t stop at the border.

With Kenney now premier in Alberta, there will be a big push to lessen environmental controls, fast-track extraction projects and get bitumen flowing through pipelines, north, west, east or any other direction the province can get.

Pipelines have been a major flash point for both Albertan dissatisfaction and environmental angst, in the province, across the country and internationally. That’s not going to change.

Critics of pipeline projects maintain the industry and government use measures and terminology that attempts to make the problems appear less troubling. Even information about spills is made as convoluted as possible to confuse the issue. Rather than frequency, how many spills in a year for instance, they talk about the ratio of incidents to the total length of Alberta’s pipeline network. Hardly useful information to the public.

Such tactics reek of people with something to hide. Clearly, the oil industry is seen in a negative light. That goes double for the tar sands. Perhaps they fear an informed public would be even more hostile to oil. Perhaps, but it’s not as though we’re going to wean ourselves off the stuff tomorrow.  Nobody likes bad news. Reports of a plane crash worry the airlines, but we keep flying. Graphic images of traffic collisions don’t take us off the roads. There’s a risk in every case, just as there is with our use of pipelines to aid our dependence on oil (including to fuel our planes, trains and automobiles).

Oil offers us many advantages, which we may or may not choose to enjoy over the many negatives. While we use the stuff, we’re all complicit in the pollution, habitat destruction and increased cancer rates and other health problems that come with that arrangement. That’s no reason, however, to cut off debate about how we might start changing the situation.

However, we’re unlikely to get the truth from governments and the industry, especially with the Koch network involved. That can’t be called friendly foreign intervention, unless of course you’re Kenney or Scheer.

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