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Nancy Smith

Environmentalists' One-Dimensional Strategy of 'No'

May 5, 2014 - 6:00pm

If environmental groups have learned anything over the last 100 years, it's that they're more effective stopping things than making things happen.

They either have to stop something from being built or shut it down. That's what they do. That's all they do.

And they do it by manufacturing bad guys like GM manufactures Chevys. Anything that quacks like a conglomerate dripping in profit gets a "Big" name -- Big Timber, Big Ag, Big Sugar, Big Tobacco and, of course, Big Oil. The "Big" is code for "Bad."

Nobody but nobody marshals indignation, attracts litigators and incites fear as masterfully as well-financed, committed conservationists. Those folks can pound the "Big" label like jungle drums in a rain forest.

I believe President Obama knows this. I believe as president, he doesn't want to be seen as anybody but a positive, ahead-of-his-time, thinking man's environmentalist. A winner, but not a ruthless tyrant. So, hesays, let's fight climate change by having cars that don't use gasoline; let's improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which would greatly reduce the use of oil and gas for heating.

But that's the patient, reasonable approach. Sissy stuff in Conservation World. And it's not working out for President Obama, a man with less than three years to make his mark.

So, what does he do but let leaders of the climate movement like Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author who has written extensively on global warming, speak for him. McKibben, remember, found success by making the villain Big Oil and confronting Big Oil over the Keystone XL Pipeline. There's a social media blitz that won't quit behind him. Billionaire Tom Steyer and his checkbook didn't come along until later.

If the president could have built a climate movement on urging people to walk or ride bicycles or switch to mass transit, that would be positive. It would be making the right things happen. But he knows it wouldn't work -- at least not fast enough. No bad guys to take on.

What I'm telling you is, today's lawyered-up environmentalists aren't a bunch of harmless hippies harking back to their Shaker looms and Whole Earth catalogs. They're smart, sophisticated and especially good at afflicting the conscience of Middle Class America.

They have us so intimidated, so guilty-as-charged, we're banging our heads against the wall for driving a 20-miles-per-gallon Explorer -- yet we never question why they're filling up their Land Rovers and Lexises at the same stations.

Environmental groups, howling loudly at the power and profit of Big Oil in America, have themselves created a lucrative cottage industry of law firms and consultants who cause decades of delays and cost government at every level millions, eventually billions of dollars. But, for environmentalists, the end justifies the means. They're fighting evil. They are the good guys.

But solutions? They're hopeless. Solutions usually involve compromise, and compromise is not a word in the environmentalist's dictionary.

The bitter irony in the political rhetoric and wrangling surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline is that there is a far worse alternative. Keystone has a rival, Enbridge Inc. Enbridge, as Grist reported, has been quietly moving ahead with a slightly smaller project that could be piping 660,000 barrels of crude per day to the Gulf Coast by 2015. (Keystone's plan is for 700,000 barrels a day.)

For environmentalists hoping that blocking the KXL would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster.

The 774-mile pipeline would run from Patoka, Ill., to St. James, La., alleviating a pipeline bottleneck in the Midwest, where the shale oil from North Dakotas Bakken formation meets the flow from Albertas oil sands -- overwhelming the capacity of the current pipelines.

Without the public outcry that has bogged down Keystone, the project has flown along smoothly under the radar.

There's reason to be concerned: Enbridge was behind the largest overland pipeline spill in U.S. history. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline unleashed more than 1.1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and its surrounding wetlands. The spill is still being cleaned up, with the bill rising to over $1 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there may be as much as 100,000 gallons of oil still lingering on the bed of the river.

The bottom line here is, stopping a particular pipeline is like playing whack-a-mole. By finding a way to hold up a project as vetted and re-vetted as the Keystone XL has been -- and ignoring one of dubious merit that walks into the country on a free pass -- environmentalists' one-dimensional strategy could be subjecting the nation to exactly the kind of nightmare they fear most.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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