Tag Archives: Electoral politics

Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

Repost from The Missoulian
[Editor:  Pay attention to Alberta!  Changes there will send ripples all along the rails in the U.S., from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast.  Congratulations to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party!  – RS]

Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

By Rob Chaney, May 09, 2015 5:30 pm
Rachel Notley
Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley speaks on stage Tuesday night in Edmonton after being elected Alberta’s new premier. The NDP won a majority in the provincial Legislative Assembly by toppling the Progressive Conservative colossus that has dominated the province for more than four decades. Photo: NATHAN DENETTE, Canadian Press

Montana’s political seismograph didn’t rattle much last Tuesday when its neighbor to the north underwent a governmental earthquake.

But that could change in the coming weeks, as the citizens of Alberta absorb the magnitude of their replacement of Canada’s longest-standing political party rulers with a left-wing opposition pledged to look hard at its energy economy.

“The Progressive Conservative Party has been in power two years longer than I’ve been alive,” said University of Montana biology professor Mark Hebblewhite, a 42-year-old Alberta native. “I think this is a real response to the ongoing mismanagement of Alberta’s bounty. One thing that hit the nail on the head was how the province went from being overrun with money to crashing in another bust. People get really tired of it.”

The New Democratic Party took 53 seats in the Alberta Parliament in Tuesday’s election. Another traditional minority group, the Wildrose Party, surprisingly found itself in second place with 21 seats. The Progressive Conservatives held onto just 10 seats.

NDP party leader Rachel Notley was credited for a remarkable political ground game that unseated Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice – a man widely considered a future leader of all Canada. Prentice resigned from his post on election night and said he was at least temporarily leaving politics.

Alberta’s entire United States border runs along Montana, from the western edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to the 110th Meridian north of Havre. The province and state share the spine of the Rocky Mountains and the beginnings of the great mid-continental prairies.

They also share a relatively recent surge in energy development. Over the past decade while Montana has exploited its Bakken oil and gas fields along the border with North Dakota, Alberta has been opening massive production in tar sands petroleum near Fort McMurray.

Oil from the tar sands has become both a political and social controversy.

New Democratic Party officials have questioned the need for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run south from Alberta, through a corner of Montana and down to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The Obama administration has stalled permitting of the international border crossing, while Montana’s bipartisan congressional delegation has supported it.

“If the Keystone XL doesn’t happen, the amount of rail traffic leaving Alberta would be impacted significantly from that decision,” said Bentek Energy senior analyst Jenna Delaney. “Currently, taking the Keystone XL out would increase petroleum unit trains by five a day out of Alberta. And Transport Canada officials say residents in Canada are very concerned with rail traveling through their communities.”

Moving petroleum by rail has become an issue in both Canada and the United States, signposted most recently by last week’s explosion of a group of oil tank cars near Heimdal, North Dakota.

Caryn Miske of the Flathead Basin Commission said the prospect of moving more oil trains along the southern border of Glacier National Park is under close scrutiny.

“We’re already seeing impacts from the amount of oil that’s moving around,” Miske said. “The number of trains and cars carrying oil has increased, and that’s really concerning, considering how many near-misses we’ve had.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has a freight line that runs out of Alberta into Montana at Sweet Grass, although there’s not much cross-border oil traffic there yet.

***

Delaney said another factor of the government change could be the NDP’s campaign pledge to revamp the province’s tax structure on energy development.

“They’re looking at increasing income taxes and royalty rates to corporations, which the oil companies aren’t happy about,” Delaney said. “The last time I was in Calgary, the atmosphere was already a little bleak. If taxes are raised on corporations, I don’t know how they might respond. Companies with offices in other places might shift people away from Calgary.”

Much of the province’s energy economy has extremely expensive initial start-up costs. Energy analysts have already been forecasting a drop in Albertan oil production as new projects slip below their break-even points with falling oil prices.

Delaney said that could have an impact on Montana’s economy, as the demand for megaloads of oil field equipment transported across the state stalls.

Longtime conservation activist Stephen Legault said the provincial government’s failure to manage its oil wealth led to great voter frustration.

“We’re drilling 20,000 wells a year in Alberta, and we’re $7 billion in the hole economically,” Legault said. “That’s largely because when oil goes below $75 a barrel, provincial coffers take a massive hit.”

The result has been a government unable to fix damage from the floods that ravaged Calgary in 2013, or even to send land management officials to cross-border conferences in Montana.

While the new government has majority control of Alberta’s Parliament, its influence over the provincial agencies could be a murkier matter. Those departments have had decades of one-party control appointing their directors and staffs.

“If I was south of the border looking north, I wouldn’t expect to see anything dramatic right away,” Legault said. “We’ve had five changes of government since 1905. The bureaucracy is so deeply entrenched after 45 years of one-party rule, it’s going to take years for a new government to put in place the people it wants to create change.”

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    Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

    Repost from Reuters

    Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

    By Scott Haggett and Nia Williams, May 4, 2015 7:07am EDT
    Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley meets with Mayor Naheed Nenshi in his office in Calgary, Alberta, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol

    (Reuters: CALGARY, Alberta) – Canada’s oil-rich province of Alberta is on the cusp of electing a left-wing government that can make life harder for the energy industry with its plans to raise taxes, end support for key pipeline projects and seek a bigger cut of oil revenues.

    Polls suggest Tuesday’s election is set to end the Conservative’s 44-year reign in the province that boasts the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and now faces recession because of the slide in crude prices.

    Surveys have proven wrong in Canadian provincial elections before and voters may end up merely downgrading the Conservatives’ grip on power to a minority government.

    Yet the meteoric rise of the New Democratic Party and the way it already challenges the status-quo of close ties between the industry and the ruling establishment has alarmed oil executives. The proposed review of royalties oil and gas companies pay the government for using natural resources and which could lead to higher levies, is a matter of particular concern.

    “Now is not the time for a review of oil and natural gas royalties,” Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s top oil lobby, said in a statement.

    A 2007 increase in the levy was rolled back when the global financial crisis struck and oil executives say today the time is equally bad to try it again.

    Yet the left’s leader Rachel Notley, a former union activist and law school graduate, has shot up in popularity ratings in the past months advocating policies that have been anathema for many conservative administrations.

    She says she would not lobby on behalf of TransCanada Corp’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline or support building of Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to link the province’s oil sands with a Pacific port in British Columbia. Citing heavy resistance from aboriginal groups to the Enbridge line, Notley says Alberta should back those that are more realistic such as TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline to the Atlantic ocean.

    PACKING UP?

    Notley also advocates a 2 percentage point rise in Alberta’s corporate tax rate to 12 percent to shore up its budget that is expected to swing from a surplus to a C$5 billion deficit in 2015/2016 as energy-related royalty payments and tax revenues shrink.

    Even with the proposed corporate tax hike Alberta’s overall taxes would remain the lowest nationally. Oil executives warn, however, that any new burdens at a time when the industry is in a downturn, shedding jobs and cutting spending, could prompt firms to move corporate head offices out of the province.

    “Business is mobile,” said Adam Legge, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Calgary where most of Canada’s oil industry is based. “Capital, people and companies move.”

    Ironically, the challenge the oil industry and the Conservatives face is in part a by-product of Alberta’s rapid growth fueled by the oil-sands boom.

    The influx of immigrants from other parts of Canada and overseas has changed the once overwhelmingly white and rural province. Today Alberta is one of the youngest provinces and polls show younger and more diverse population is more likely to support left-wing causes such as environment and education and more critical of big business. The New Democratic Party still only got 10 percent of the votes in the 2012 vote, but an election of a Muslim politician as a mayor of Calgary in 2010 served as an early sign of the changing political landscape.

    The Conservatives themselves and their gaffe-prone leader Premier Jim Prentice also share the blame for the reversal of fortunes with one poll showing them trailing the left by 21 percent to 44 percent.

    Prentice angered voters when he told Albertans to “look in the mirror” to find reasons for the province’s fiscal woes and then passed a budget in March that raised individual taxes and fees for government services but spared corporations.

    Scandals – Prentice’ s predecessor left last year because of a controversy over lavish spending – and blunders added to the party’s woes.

    The NDP vaulted to the top of the polls after Notley’s strong performance in an April 23 televised debate, when Prentice, former investment banker, drew fire for suggesting his rival struggled with math.

    Then there is voter fatigue with a party seen as too comfortable and scandal-prone after decades in power.

    “It’s still the same gang, the same policy, same procedures, the same concept of entitlement,” said one executive at a large oil and gas producer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “I know some extremely neo-conservative guys who have said enough is enough.”

    (Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; Editing by Amran Abocar and Tomasz Janowski)
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      US House approves $279 million renewable energy cut; raises funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million

      Press Release from Friends of the Earth
      [Editor:  As you might expect, this travesty was passed on a nearly complete party line vote, with 230 Republicans and 10 Dems in favor.  Dems voting FOR the bill included:  A. Dutch Ruppersberger MD, Ami Bera CA, Brad Ashford NE, Collin Peterson MN, Doris Matsui CA, Filemon Vela TX, Gene Green TX, Henry Cuellar TX, Jim Costa CA, and William Keating MA.  Republicans voting AGAINST the bill included: Christopher Gibson NY, James Sensenbrenner Jr. WI, Joseph Heck NV, Justin Amash MI, Mo Brooks AL, Thomas Massie KY, Walter Jones Jr. NC.   Track the bill here.  – RS]

      House approves $279 million renewable energy cut

      By: Kate Colwell, May. 1, 2015

      WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2028, “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016,” by a vote of 240-177.

      The bill sets funding levels for important programs within the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers. While staying within the limits set by the sequester, the bill manages to raise funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million from 2015 levels while cutting renewable energy and efficiency research by $279 million. Simultaneously, it is packed with policy riders that undermine bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to study the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

      Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Campaigner Lukas Ross issued the following statement in response:

      Shoveling more of our tax dollars into the pockets of ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers while defunding clean energy is climate denial at its worst. Fossil fuel interests don’t need more money. Solutions to the climate crisis do.

      From hobbling the Clean Water Act to limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to even study fracking, House Speaker John Boehner is continuing his assault on the air we breathe and the water we drink.

      ###

      Expert contact: Lukas Ross, (202) 222-0724, lross@foe.org
      Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org
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        California billionaire fights to keep tar-sands oil out of state

        Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
        [Editor:  See the full report, West Coast Tar Sands Invasion.  See Anthony Swift’s NRDC Blog for summary details.  See also the ForestEthics press release.  – RS] 

        Billionaire fights to keep tar-sands oil out of state

        By David R. Baker, April 29, 2015
        Tom Steyer hopes  to block Canada oil from the state. Photo: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg
        Tom Steyer hopes to block Canada oil from the state. Photo: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

        Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has a new mission

        — keeping oil from Canada’s tar sands out of California.

        Steyer’s NextGen Climate organization released a report Tuesday warning that an “invasion” of tankers and railcars carrying crude from the oil sands could soon hit West Coast refineries, which currently process very little Canadian oil.

        Steyer, a major Democratic donor who quit his hedge fund to focus on fighting climate change, has risen to prominence as a vocal opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, which would link the oil sands to American refineries on the Gulf Coast.

        A train carries crude oil through Kansas City, Mo., in 2014. Environmentalist Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate organization warns that railcars carrying oil from Canada could soon hit West Coast refineries. Photo: Curtis Tate, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
        A train carries crude oil through Kansas City, Mo., in 2014. Environmentalist Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate organization warns that railcars carrying oil from Canada could soon hit West Coast refineries. Photo: Curtis Tate, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

        But Tuesday’s report, prepared with the Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of other environmental groups, notes that the oil industry is pursuing other pipeline routes that would carry tar-sands petroleum to Canada’s Pacific Coast. From there, it could be shipped to refineries in California and Washington. In California, companies have proposed five new terminals for receiving oil shipped by rail — another potential means of entry. California’s policies to fight climate change discourage but don’t prevent the use of oil-sands crude.

        “Keystone is not the only way the tar sands threaten our country,” Steyer said Tuesday at an event in Oakland, releasing the report. “The owners of the tar sands are always looking for other routes to the world’s oceans and the world’s markets.”

        Steyer and other environmentalists have made blocking Keystone a rallying cry in the fight against global warming, since extracting hydrocarbons from the oil sands releases far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than other forms of oil production. And unlike common oil, the diluted bitumen (a tar-like substance extracted from the sands) sinks in water, making spills from pipelines and tankers difficult to clean.

        “It is shockingly toxic, it is extremely nasty and it takes forever to clean up,” Steyer said. “To end the risk from tar-sands oil once and for all, we need to move beyond oil to a clean energy future. Luckily, this is the kind of leadership California excels at.”

        The oil industry, and the Canadian government, call the oil sands a reliable source of oil from a friendly ally. And industry representatives often note that California’s dependence on imported oil has grown in recent years, in large part because production in Alaska — once one of California’s biggest suppliers of crude — has dropped.

        Steyer has devoted a sizable chunk of his personal fortune, estimated at $1.6 billion, to backing political candidates who support action on climate change and targeting those who don’t, spending $73 million in the last election cycle. He said Tuesday that he has not yet decided whether to pay for an advertising campaign against bringing oil-sands crude to the West Coast.

        “I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said. “Exactly how we fight it, I don’t think we’ve determined.”

        Crude from the tar sands makes up a tiny fraction of the oil processed in California refineries — less than 3 percent, according to the report. And while the amount of oil shipped into the the Golden State by rail has soared in recent years, most of that petroleum comes from North Dakota and other states where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has produced a glut of crude.

        But oil companies have proposed two pipeline projects that would link the oil sands to the Pacific Ocean, both of them traveling through British Columbia. If built, they could lead to an additional 2,000 oil tankers and barges moving up and down the West Coast each year, according to the report. The rail terminal projects proposed in California could raise the amount of oil-sands crude processed in the state each day from the current 50,000 barrels to 650,000 barrels by 2040.

        However, that outcome is hardly certain.

        A California policy known as the low carbon fuel standard requires oil companies to cut by 10 percent the amount of carbon dioxide associated with each gallon of fuel they sell in the state, reaching that milestone by 2020. In addition, the state’s cap-and-trade system forces refineries to cut their overall greenhouse gas emissions. Neither policy specifically prevents refineries from using oil-sands crude, but both give oil companies a powerful incentive to use other sources of petroleum.

        Anthony Swift, one of the report’s authors, said California needs to adopt more stringent emissions targets to keep out crude from the oil sands.

        “These policies are a very good start,” said Swift, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We need to get more robust targets — for both the low carbon fuel standard and the cap — to signal to the industry that California is not going to be an option for tar-sands refining.”

        David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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