By Nick Cunningham – Jun 19, 2019, 6:00 PM CDT
Canada declared a national climate emergency on Monday. The next day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the greenlight to a massive oil sands pipeline.
The House of Commons, with strong support declared climate change a “real and urgent crisis.” A week before, Justin Trudeau proposed a ban on single-use plastics, which, if implemented, would be the latest in a growing number of bans on plastic that could put multibillion-dollar bets on plastics and petrochemicals by the oil industry at risk.
But Trudeau has never really stood in the way of Canada’s oil industry, despite years of platitudes about addressing climate change. That was clear on June 18, when he gave the approval to the Trans Mountain Expansion (not for the first time), a $4.5 billion twin pipeline that would run along an existing line from Alberta to the Pacific Coast in British Columbia.
The Trans Mountain Expansion is one of a few high-profile pipeline projects that have run into serious trouble. Trudeau first gave the greenlight in 2016, but the project ran aground amid legal challenges from First Nations and environmental groups. Last year, Kinder Morgan, the original owner of the project, headed for the exit, threatening the cancel the project altogether.
Desperate to keep it alive – and the clearest example imaginable of how much the Canadian government depends on the oil industry – Trudeau moved to nationalize the project in mid-2018, buying it off of Kinder Morgan’s hands. A year later, here we are, with Ottawa once again trying to push it forward.
“This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” Trudeau said on Tuesday. Despite Trudeau’s plea, many see it precisely as an either/or proposition. Faced with a binary choice, Trudeau could either anger the oil industry, or anger First Nations and environmental groups. He chose the former, even though that was mostly expected. Related: Oil Prices Jump On Hopes Of End To U.S.-China Trade War
“The approval comes as no surprise—the federal government owns the pipeline after all,” Scotiabank’s Rebekah Young wrote in a note. The Canadian government has vowed to build the project with a Crown corporation, then turn it over to private investors or some other company.
But the next step is unclear.
The approval from Trudeau’s government is a “positive step” for the project, but “project execution risk remains elevated,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a note to clients. The investment bank said that while the government plans to begin construction this year, Goldman is not factoring the project into its base-case forecasts, “given prior uncertainty in the outlook of this project.”