Matting on the Trans Mountain Expansion right-of-way. Trans Mountain

Here’s a sad irony we are all too familiar with. All those pipeline-blocking environmental approval measures concocted by Canada’s federal governments and cherished by the Trudeau Liberals have come back to bite Justin in the ass. After purchasing the only pipeline project that would be allowed to reach Canadian tidewater from the Prairies, the Liberals have not been able to get the job done. Delays caused by environmental protests, litigation and green municipal governments in B.C. have held up completion of a project launched way back in 2013. What’s worse is that the delays encountered before and after the project was nationalized in 2018 have contributed to an escalation in costs from an estimated $4.5 billion in 2013 to $30.9 billion today.

The sorry history of the Trans Mountain pipeline project actually reflects a phenomenon that has been frustrating environmentalists across North America. The Byzantine environmental approval processes that environmental activists and green politicians constructed over the last several decades now make it virtually impossible to get anything in the way of large infrastructure projects approved and completed. And that includes green energy infrastructure projects.

The following are a few classic examples of how green projects supported by environmentalists have been derailed by regulatory approval processes, lawsuits and protests that have been designed, supported and applauded by environmentalists.

Remember John Podesta? He was chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign. WikiLeaks famously published Podesta’s emails during the campaign. The correspondence showed that the Democratic National Committee had been putting its fingers on the scale to ensure Hillary beat Bernie Sanders in the contest for the Democratic nomination.

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Somewhat less well-known is Podesta’s role as a climate change activist who has had the ear of three US presidents. When working in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, Podesta had big plans for the development of a new green energy grid for the US southwest. He imagined how windmill and solar power projects, like the many wind farms being built in Texas, could be incorporated into a region-wide electrical grid that would not rely on any electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Podesta got a big surprise in 2022 after Joe Biden brought him back into government. Biden appointed him Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation. Podesta was soon disappointed to learn that the southwest green energy grid had not been completed. Actually, it hadn’t been started. Podesta has now admitted to reporters that work on the grid had been held up for two decades because the environmental and local approval processes in place in the US prevented it from going forward.

A chronic pattern of regulatory bottlenecks like those that prevented construction of the southwest grid could mean that much of the $369 billion in promised subsidies to green energy projects in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 might never be spent. That’s because under the current rules regime nothing big can ever get built.

Podesta recently told the Associated Press, “We have to start building things again in America. We got too good at stopping things, and not good enough at building things.” Ya think?

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Another US project hailed as a greenhouse gas reducing winner is California’s high speed rail line to nowhere. In 2008, Californians voted to provide $9 billion to launch construction of a high speed electric railway from Los Angeles to San Francisco. When completed trains would cover the 240 miles in just two hours and 40 minutes. Huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would be achieved as people switched from taking planes and private vehicles to the more energy efficient electric train. As of 2023, the original $9 billion is long gone and the line is only 75 per cent complete. And, neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco are connected to the completed section. It is located in a low population area somewhere between the two cities. As one might expect environmental approvals, municipal zoning rules, and at least one dozen lawsuits have delayed the work and led to massive cost overruns.

Some greens in California’s government seem almost proud of the delays. A CNBC report quoted one who proudly claimed the project “won’t bulldoze people or endangered species.”

Britain’s high speed rail project has run into almost identical challenges as those that have caused the problems in California.

BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) objections can also derail environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects. And BANANA protesters frequently make use of the potential for environmental harm to add legitimacy to their development-blocking positions. Here’s the sort of thinking involved: “We support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but wind farms produce harmful sound vibrations, kill birds and could cause cancer – so you can’t build one here.”

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In Ontario in 2010, a local interest group with the environmentally fashionable name “Citizens for Clean Air,”(C4CA)  successfully blocked Ontario Hydro’s plan to build a natural gas-fired electrical power plant just outside the city of Oakville. The provincial government was hoping the new gas-fired plant would allow Ontario Hydro to decommission a portion of its coal-burning facilities as part of its greenhouse gas reduction efforts. The people from C4CA claimed the project would be environmentally damaging to their community, causing health problems and creating fog patches affecting road visibility. C4CA wanted the plant built at nearby Nanticoke, Ontario which already had a large electrical power generating facility.

As it happens Oakville is one of Canada’s wealthiest cities. The head of C4CA, Frank Clegg, certainly had a good job at one time. He was a formerly president of Microsoft Canada.

The average incomes of the people from Nanticoke fell into a much lower range of the middle class. One might reasonably contend that the citizens of Oakville had an advantage in financial capacity to oppose the plant than would be the case for people from Nanticoke. Indeed, C4CA was apparently able to put together the $25,000 appearance fee charged by the celebrated assistant environmental litigator, Erin Brockovich.

Brockovich told Canadian reporters that “Citizens of Oakville may have more flat screens than the average person [but] they shouldn’t be told to shut up because they have money.”

The takeaway here might be that if you have enough money along with famous and well-connected friends your environmental interests trump those of the larger community. This also applies to voting and political clout in relation to environmental regulations. The environmental concerns of central Canadians supersede the concerns of fossil fuel workers on the Prairies when it comes to earning a livelihood.

 

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Brian Crossman: Taking a break to add some perspective on health care