- - Thursday, August 8, 2013

During his address to the Canadian Parliament in 1981, President Reagan said, “We are happy to be your neighbor. We want to remain your friend. We are determined to be your partner, and we are intent on working closely with you in a spirit of cooperation.”

Not only was it Reagan’s first visit to Canada, it was his first-ever official presidential visit. He took office less than two months previously and chose his neighbors to the north for his first foreign trip. What followed was a presidency that embraced and advanced the Canada-U.S. relationship, with many victories celebrated on both sides of the border along the way.

Far from the exception, I would say Reagan’s devotion to this critical strategic relationship was fairly typical of U.S. presidents in the modern era. In short, Canada has always had a friend and a good neighbor in the Oval Office.

That is, until the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline issue. Never before has an American administration allowed what should be a slam-dunk approval of a cross-border, job-creating asset to threaten what has been one of the world’s most exemplary partnerships.

The Obama administration’s latest Keystone position — that its inconsequential job creation isn’t worth the havoc and destruction it will have on the environment — has no basis in economic reality or scientific fact. Sadly, it appears special interests are preying on ill-informed fears about Canadian (and Albertan) oil to sway the president’s decision.

The issue can’t be with the pipeline itself. Five major energy companies operate dozens of cross-border pipelines. None of them resulted in an uproar. There are 55,000 miles of crude-oil pipelines in the continental United States. Clearly, this is a technology that works.

Mr. Obama’s own State Department has estimated Keystone job creation in the United States at more than 40,000 — not the “maybe 2,000” jobs he indicated in an interview with The New York Times. But even if TransCanada’s estimate of 20,000 jobs is closer to reality, Mr. Obama could secure a significant economic victory for American workers with the stroke of a pen at a time when America desperately needs one.

The reason why — and the true linchpin of the special interests’ anti-Keystone crusade — is the environment.

Alberta energy companies understand that if the White House is ever going to approve Keystone, they’ve got to show they are serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in Alberta’s oil sands. The president says “we could do more” to curb emissions. Indeed, as indicated to The New York Times, it seems to be the only criteria on which he is evaluating Keystone.

To put it in perspective, Alberta’s oil sands account for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s emissions. Meanwhile, our energy sector has achieved a 26 percent reduction in per-barrel emissions since 1990. Technological breakthroughs in oil sands recovery are only going to drive the amount of emissions down. According to the Conference Board of Canada, $6.1 billion will be invested in climate-friendly technology in Alberta, more than all the other Canadian provinces combined.

There is no doubt these facts informed the State Department’s 2011 finding that “from a global perspective, the Keystone pipeline project is not likely to result in incremental [greenhouse gas] emissions” — a finding the president would do well to note. He should also note that the total amount of greenhouse-gas emissions from Alberta’s oil sands is about half the amount of emissions produced by the coal-fired electricity plants in the president’s own home state of Illinois. If the president wants to start making progress on greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, he might start by looking closer to home.

That the special interests are manufacturing a controversy over Keystone should be obvious by now. By inventing job numbers, obscuring facts and ignoring evidence from government agencies, the administration is being encouraged to apply conditions to Canadian oil that the United States never has or never would for any of America’s other oil-supplying nations.

This would seem to be a significant departure from the open, honest and prosperous partnership Reagan and others have established between our two countries. It has not gone unnoticed. In a letter sent last week to Mr. Obama, three House Republicans raised the alarm over what they see as “an arbitrary and abrupt shift in how our nation approves cross-border energy projects.” Reading between the lines, they’re worried Mr. Obama is sacrificing jobs and a historically strong trade partnership to pander to narrow special interests.

The letter also refers to Canada as an “allied friend and neighbor,” a spot-on assessment of what both Republican and Democratic presidents have achieved with the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Canada has always been an ally, a friend and a key strategic partner to the United States. We share similar ideals, and we achieve our aims in complementary and mutually beneficial ways.

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