The Biden administration’s inconsistent approach to pipelines is raising eyebrows

Joseph QuesnelAs we dissect the Biden administration’s approach to pipeline projects, a perplexing pattern emerges: Are these strategies truly about pioneering “climate leadership,” or is there a veiled agenda against Canadian interests?

Consider a recent Frontier Centre for Public Policy study which spotlighted the Biden administration’s putting its moral and legal weight behind a small Maine town contesting a pipeline project. This project aimed to facilitate the flow of Canadian crude from the oil sands to an Atlantic seaport. While pipeline lawyers argue that a local ordinance could potentially breach the Constitution’s provision, which reserves such authority for Congress, the Biden administration’s legal eagles argued to the contrary, stating no federal laws or the Constitution were being violated.

The weight of such top-tier support empowers environmentalists who oppose the introduction of Canada’s “dirty” oil to U.S. shores. In fact, one media report revealed that the National Wildlife Federation interpreted the brief as a signal the Biden administration may not block other local authorities from using local laws to challenge oil pipelines.

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One can only hope this is not the case, as it could obstruct pipeline commerce for both Canada and the United States.

The aforementioned Maine situation is reminiscent of the historical ‘Baptists and Bootleggers’ dilemma, where diverse groups – like Christian prohibitionists and moonshiners – align for different reasons. In the case of the prohibitionists and moonshiners, they both wanted to shut down liquor stores on Sunday, but for vastly different reasons. In today’s context, it seems the Biden administration is aligning with radical environmentalists and U.S. businesses keen on curbing Canadian oil’s entry into the U.S. market, conveniently using climate change as a shield.

This assertion becomes evident when examining the administration’s inconsistent stances on pipeline projects. Let’s take the Mountain Valley Pipeline project – a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia into Virginia – as a case in point. The administration pulled out all the stops – including pushing for expedited right-of-way permits to allow construction to proceed – to ensure that the project wasn’t derailed after U.S. court rulings threatened the project’s completion by year’s end. Earlier, Congress had even passed a law – unrelated to energy development – that stripped the court of jurisdiction to hear the case.

This move, which angered environmentalists, proves that the self-proclaimed ‘climate leadership’ often takes a backseat to national business and political ambitions.

The hypocrisy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline further drives this point home. Multiple environmental reviews under the Obama administration found the project harmless, yet both Obama and later Biden scrapped it. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s opposition to the Canadian project contrasts starkly with its endorsement of Nord Stream 2 at the behest of three influential European governments (Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands) despite Russian aggression in Ukraine. This favour, seemingly done to placate influential European allies, unveils an alarming double standard.

While it’s only natural for the U.S. government to champion its national interests, the inconsistency in its pipeline policies suggests a bias against Canadian oil. The Trump era, for all its complexities, illustrated that the U.S. and Canada could collaboratively bolster energy independence.

Regrettably, the Biden administration’s actions, wrapped in environmental rhetoric, hint at an underlying motive: keeping Canadian interests at bay. It’s high time Canadian policymakers recognize and respond to this incongruity.

Joseph Quesnel is a senior research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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