Sloan: From Paris talks to ISIS and fracking bans, energy dominates politics

Author: Kelly Sloan - December 15, 2015 - Updated: January 8, 2016

It seems fitting, as most Coloradans shiver under the first major winter storm of the season, to talk energy policy. A lot has been going on along that front.

The Paris climate talks have just wrapped up, and the best thing to say about them is that they accomplished precisely nothing despite exuberant self-congratulation among the participants. The accord that was eventually coughed up is not legally binding, partly at the insistence of the American delegation — who knew that the U.S. Senate would not ratify a binding treaty, and thereby hand the administration a key defeat in the midst of a presidential election year.

At any rate, whether legally binding or not, the accord would do little to impact global carbon levels. An analysis conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicts that were the accord’s emission cuts all followed to the letter, the resulting change in the earth’s temperature would range from 0.0 degrees Celsius (yes, that is zero) to a whopping 0.2 degrees.

Part of that, of course, is because the world’s biggest emitters are not the industrialized nations, but China and India, both of whom are let off the climate hook, as it were. China, for instance, is being held to an emissions peak which they are expected to hit anyway, whether they do anything or not. And neither country is about to give up on bootstrapping their economies and societies into the 21st century by abandoning the use of cheap and abundant energy — namely coal. That is, after all, how the industrialized nations became industrialized, and therefore allowed the luxury of playing around with alternate forms of energy.

The real threat of the Paris agreement is not the agreement itself but how it may be used as a catalyst for economically destructive policies back home, policies the Obama administration seems dead-set on implementing, in spite of any consequences.

Speaking of this side of the Atlantic, the past month also saw the President surprise no one by vetoing the Keystone pipeline. Not coincidentally within days of Canada electing a new Liberal Prime Minister.

Mr. Obama was not fooling anybody by pretending to wrestle over the decision. He wants the Keystone to be built about as much as Darryl Hannah does. His only obstacle was the vigorous support for the project being offered by former Prime Minister Steven Harper. Harper was a steadfast proponent of the pipeline, which would safely transport Canada’s principle export — Alberta oil — to refineries and markets in the Gulf. His replacement, Justin Trudeau, ostensibly supported the pipeline because he had to (it is difficult to campaign nationally on a platform that so obviously counters the nation’s interest), but his energy and environmental policy outlook mirrors Obama’s, and he has spoken out against other important pipeline projects. So he was not about to mount any sort of opposition to a veto of the Keystone. Just as importantly, he also managed to toss away Canada’s most potent bargaining chip with the administration over the issue. Harper has used the presence of Canadian fighter jets in the middle-east, taking part in strikes against ISIS, as a negotiating tool. This was a secondary consideration for Harper, who truly believed in the military mission, but an effective one; if one can discern an Obama foreign policy, it is to let others take the lead wherever possible in order to avoid the necessity of formulating and implementing an actual foreign policy. The more Canadian CF-18’s blowing up ISIS targets, the less Obama felt compelled to send American F-22’s. Nevertheless, Trudeau the Younger’s very first public policy announcement was the withdrawal of Canadian air forces from the region. Whatever that may mean in regards to the war on ISIS, it certainly made the goal of North American energy security a little bit trickier.

Back here in Colorado, the state Supreme Court recently heard arguments for and against local bans on hydraulic fracturing, which industry and the state government oppose as being unconstitutional. The decision could have a big political impact; if the bans are overturned, I would fully expect to see action on the part of environmental groups and their allies in the legislature to propose an amendment to the state constitution making such bans legal, or at least some legislative action to try and keep them in place. After a 2015 legislative session that was eerily quiet on the fracking battle, this could set up some interesting fights in the coming sessions.

In any event, energy policy at the international, national and state levels should remain a concern for all Coloradans who plan to drive home, turn on the lights, and crank up the heater this evening.

Kelly Sloan is a Grand Junction-based political and public affairs consultant, journalist and is a Centennial Institute fellow in energy policy.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.