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Why the Battle Over Canada's Tar Sands Is an American Issue

For starters, the energy and environmental impacts of tar sands production are not limited to within the borders of Canada. But the trouble doesn't end there.

Almost exactly nine years ago, opposition to the US invasion of Iraq was reaching a fever pitch. On February 15, 2003 millions of people around the world  rallied to protest the inexorable march to war, including in over 150 cities in the United States. The case for war — coming from the Bush White House and its supporters through every pore of the mainstream media complex — was fierce and demanding, an hourly barrage of breathless warnings that at any moment Saddam Hussein could unleash nuclear or biological terrorism on Americans. And yet, while the vast majority of Americans (wrongly) believed the Administration's claims that Iraq held WMDs,  most still favored diplomacy over invasion.

A month later, of course, after the US and its "coalition of the willing" invaded Iraq, public opposition to the war became unpopular. Vocal opponents were regularly vilified by pundits and politicians as somehow being unpatriotic, traitors, appeasers, cowards, or "blame America 1st"ers. It was not an easy time to stand on principle.

The current debate in Canada over the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline reminds me a little of those days.

Think I'm being bombastic? Well, check out  this ad and this ad by the oil industry front group, Ethical Oil, and then decide who is being bombastic.

The theme of these ads, apparently, is that we shouldn't get oil from Saudi Arabia since they persecute women and gays there, and they destroy their natural environment in the process of producing oil.

Now, let me be perfectly clear, the human rights issues in Saudi Arabia are very real and very grave. But is this really the only choice at hand? And I have yet to see Ethical Oil raise concerns about human rights abuses in China, the primary market for Northern Gateway Pipeline oil.

BTW, this is what Ethical Oil wants us to believe tar sands production looks like.

And this is what tar sands extraction looks like in reality.

Ok, so tar sands proponents are stretching the truth about the environmental impacts of oil production. What else is new?

What's new is the sinister tone that the conservative government in Canada and pipeline supporters have taken to defining their opponents. In the hours before an independent review panel began hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver published  an open letter warning of "environmental and other radical groups" that:

... threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.

(I hope Oliver managed to wipe off some of that unseemly bitumen before draping himself in the Canadian flag.)

This line of attack has been pursued further, as  exemplified brilliantly by Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall on a recent CBC news show:

This is becoming a battle between reasonable, everyday, hardworking Canadians and foreign special interests and their deep pockets and their puppet groups who are trying to hijack and gum up a Canadian process.

(Kathryn Marshall mysteriously failed to respond to repeated attempts by the host to inquire about the sources of Ethical Oil's funding, and whether any of it comes from oil companies.)

Last week, Andrew Frank signed a sworn affadavit claiming that the Prime Minister's Office threatened the charitable status of Tides Canada for providing funding to ForestEthics, a vocal opponent of the pipeline. In  this open letter, Frank claimed that:

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