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Pipeline approval should mean end of subsidies, higher fees

That the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will ultimately get pushed through seems an almost foregone conclusion given both the undue influence of oil-industry lobbyists and the sparking of western alienation, particularly in Alberta.

The controversial project got another boost this week as the Federal Court of Appeal rejected claims from Indigenous communities that they weren’t adequately consulted in the process.

The federal Liberals, accused of both dragging its heels on the project and toadying to the oil industry, are in a no-win situation here. Pragmatically, they can point to the minimal impact Canada has on global greenhouse gas emissions, the somewhat disingenuous “jobs” issue and the financial impacts as reason enough to push through a pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast. That the western-most province isn’t keen on the project will undoubtedly still play a part. B.C. has more voters, and Alberta is a Conservative haven, so that will figure in the equation – all issues are matters of short-term political gain rather than the long-term public interest.

Even more practical, the federal government has billions tied up in the deal – it bought the existing pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018, and estimates put the amount sunk into the venture at up to $10 billion. Given its runaway spending, Ottawa is unlikely concerned about the money, but the optics would be really bad.

Turning on the Alberta oil taps also provides a national unity benefit, easing the always simmering discontent in the Prairies.

All of that pales in comparison, however, to the profit that will come from extracting and transporting tar-sands oil. The oil lobby has been incessant, with the employment prospects being a big carrot dangled before politicians. And the government stands to rake in billions of dollars, despite notoriously poor royalties and low taxes on the industry – corporate tax revenue alone has been estimated at $500 million per year. Though Justin Trudeau has pledged to direct earnings towards green energy projects, the details remain up in the air.

Studies have shown that the project, which will give Alberta oil an outlet to the B.C. coast (capacity will be almost tripled if plans go ahead), is rife with hazards to the environment, but the benefits outweigh the risks, say officials. No matter what, the decision was always going to be thus.

A pipeline to funnel more tar sands bitumen to refineries may not be in keeping with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of climate change. And the inevitable spills will be harmful to the natural ecology along the pipeline corridor, which a major event potentially catastrophic. Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing. Again, it’s the dollars that matter.

The industry claims pipelines are still the safest way of transporting oil. That’s true. It would take millions of trucks or railcars to move the oil, each providing numerous opportunities for spillage. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement, as problems occur far more frequently than we hear about.

Supporters essentially tell us that the spills are the price of doing business, the business of feeding our oil addiction.

As long as we’re so reliant on oil, we’ll be taking it out of the ground and moving it around in large volumes. 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.

If the pipeline is built as a concession to the industry, the federal government’s next move must to remove all corporate welfare from the industry, dramatically increase royalties and ensure the notoriously dodgy sector pays its taxes – that would be fairer to Canadians.

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