Canadian government scolds Jimmy Carter over position on Keystone XL pipeline


WASHINGTON – The Keystone XL pipeline issue has created a tiff between a former U.S. president and the Canadian government.

The Prime Minister’s Office reacted swiftly Wednesday to a letter signed by Nobel laureates, including Jimmy Carter, urging President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline.

Carter is the first former president to come out against Keystone XL.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office responded with a warning: Remember 1979.

It was a reference to the dip in oil supply which followed the Iranian revolution and touched off a global panic. Prices spiked and long lines formed at gas stations, helping destabilize Carter’s one-term presidency.

“Mr. Carter knows from his time as president during the 1979 energy crisis there are benefits to having access to oil from stable, secure partners like Canada,” the PMO said.

The statement also cited multiple reviews by the U.S. State Department, which said the project would create thousands of construction jobs without an impact on the environment.

It was during the 1979 crisis that Carter delivered a memorable televised speech — the so-called “Malaise” address.

He asked Americans to avoid unnecessary trips, use carpools and public transit whenever necessary, follow the speed limit, and lower their thermostats. He called energy conservation “an act of patriotism,” one that would help the poorest Americans cope with the price shock.

Ronald Reagan was elected president less than 16 months later.

One environmental economist isn’t sold, however, on the comparisons to 1979.

“I think it’s a little bit of a stretch to say that KXL would buffer the U.S. against a repeat of the oil crises,” said Andrew Leach, a professor at the University of Alberta.

“I don’t think our government would want to commit to selling oil to the U.S. at below market prices. We don’t have a nationalized oil industry, so suggesting we could co-ordinate, at a national level, selling oil at a discount might raise concerns about energy policies of the 1980s era.”

In his famous speech, Carter also stressed the need to become more energy self-reliant — by building pipelines when possible and tapping the nation’s abundant shale resources.

The 39th president is now lending his voice to a new crisis: climate change.

The letter from the Nobel winners released Wednesday warned Obama that the pipeline issue is key to his legacy.

“You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced — climate change,” says the letter, also signed by nine other Nobel laureates, including South African archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“As you deliberate the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, you are poised to make a decision that will signal either a dangerous commitment to the status quo, or bold leadership that will inspire millions counting on you to do the right thing for our shared climate.”

Obama has signalled that a decision on the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline will come before summer.

He’s being squeezed on the issue by factions in his own party. The president is caught between wealthy anti-Keystone donors and pro-Keystone lawmakers at risk of losing their seats in more conservative areas in this fall’s midterm elections.

The stakes in that congressional election could be huge. Nearly half the Supreme Court — four out of nine justices — is older than 75 and the party that controls the Senate might gain the upper hand in reshaping the American judiciary for years to come. High-court nominees must be approved by that chamber.

Until now, other former presidents had expressed support for Keystone XL. George W. Bush told an energy conference in Pittsburgh last year: “Build the damned thing.” Bill Clinton has urged people to “embrace” the project, albeit under strict precautions.

In Canada, domestic opponents of the Harper government said the little dig at Carter was typical of an approach to politics. The NDP said it’s that tendency to poke environmentalists in the eye, rather than work constructively on climate change, that inflamed opposition to pipelines.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they would try to take a run at Jimmy Carter who has, I think, enormous credibility in Canada,” said the NDP’s Peter Julian.

“Mr. Carter is voicing an opinion that’s other than what the Conservatives want him to voice — so their instinct is to try to attack. And this is what they’ve done about opponents to Keystone, that are growing in the United States. It does not help the cause.

“If the Conservatives feel strongly about Keystone, what they need to do is put in emissions regulations. They need to put in place clear environmental initiatives around oilsands development.”

2 comments on “Canadian government scolds Jimmy Carter over position on Keystone XL pipeline

  1. The whole issue of the KXL pipeline is just a red herring and a giant waste of environmental groups time since the real problem for global climate change is reducing fossil fuel CONSUMPTION and not trying to choke off one particular source of oil. All that would be accomplished by chocking off the oil sands is to increase the oil supply from other sources of oil (some with oil as heavy as the oil sands) since the DEMAND for oil did not change one bit. The environmental groups should be campaigning for energy efficiency, reducing the amount of driving that people do, reducing the number of coal fired power plants, etc. These are the things that will make a real difference to CO2 production.

    • To poke at Carter is really redundant. Having met the man many years ago, I have to say,” He is a nice guy and very personable.” Other than that comment, he is very light weight as to intelligence levels, not on a par with Obama for instance or Harper. Carter is a “voice” but a muted voice at best due to also being classed by those that talk, as being close to one of the worst USA presidents in history for many reasons. But he is a nice guy. End of story for him.
      Is Carter correct about shale gas? Absolutely! It could be ONE of the factors that saves the USA from going bankrupt from paying so much for foreign oil But is shale gas the panacea for the USA against overseas oil – definitely NO as it is fast being depleted even as the gas companies are stating the volume will increase, and yes it will increase but literature tells us it is being depleted very very quickly and now costing more and more per drill hole.
      No, the pipe line from Canada is the only long term solution to the USA paying Saudi Arabia – more billions on billions with no jobs created in either Canada or the US.