Sunday, March 25, 2007

B.C. making mixed headlines in the U.S.

It’s been a big month for B.C. in the U.S. media, but the messages have probably been confusing for any Americans actually paying attention.
Premier Gordon Campbell zipped down to California for a meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that was mostly a good news story. Hands across the border to battle greenhouse gases and all that. It even made the Washington Post, admittedly back on Page A18, but still good publicity for the province.
But at almost the same time, B.C. was being also portrayed as the environmental bad guy threatening an important Montana river. Plans for a coal mine in the Kootenays near the U.S. border are once again under fire.
And for the first time, the Bush administration is backing the complaints. The State Department wrote to B.C. last month putting its concerns about the mine on the record.
We’re about four years in to this long squabble with Montana over plans for a coal mine on our side of the border, but in the headwaters of the state’s Flathead River.
Partly, the mine’s problems are just collateral damage in the ongoing battle between environmentalists and the mining and energy industries within the state. Montana has had some bad experiences, especially with poorly regulated coalbed methane wells. There’s a lot of sensitivity about any development.
B.C. has made an effort to stay on the right side of the issue. The province even cancelled Cline Mining’s rights to develop one coal mine close to the border.
But Cline has another property, about 30 kms from the border, and it wants to go ahead with a relatively small open-pit coal mine. The province, while citing the need for environmental studies, seems too enthusiastic about the mine for Montana.
So there’s been some testy exchanges back and forth. The noisiest came when MLA Bill Bennett even got into a heated debate with Montana Senator Max “Blame Canada” Baucus in Fernie over the project. Gov. Brian Schweitzer is also an opponent.
And now the Montana crew have their federal government onside, at least in a modest way. The State Department have written to B.C. complaining that Cline proposed just north of Glacier National Park could cause "significant adverse environmental effects."
The letter is the mildest of White House responses to the political pressure from Montana.
Still, the game is afoot. And coal mines are not exactly seen in a favourable light right now. The B.C. government will likely have to decide if this mine is worth a fight with some pretty savvy opponents.
Especially when a fight over a coal mine against an earnest group of Montana environmentalists, backed by all their mainstream politicians, would sabotage the whole Schwarzenegger thing.
The charming bodybuilder-actor-governor will be up in B.C. in a few weeks to talk with Campbell about climate change. The linkage with Arnie is useful. As Campbell notes, B.C. as a market of four million people can’t bring much pressure for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Aligning with California, with 36 million people, gives the government some influence.
And politically it never hurts to be seen with a movie star.
Though the whole Campbell-Schwarzenegger meeting got a slightly different play in the U.S.
The Washington Post, for example characterized Campbell as the premier who “wanted to bring coal-burning plants and offshore oil rigs to this lush province.”
His new green leanings were stunning, the newspaper said, and owed a big debt to Arnie.
“Campbell sought advice from Schwarzenegger, who had reversed his own sagging political fortunes by championing some of the toughest environmental regulations in the United States,” the Washington Post reported. “Schwarzenegger dispatched his chief environmental adviser, Terry Tamminen, to Victoria, B.C., where he worked quietly with Campbell's staff to draft a far-reaching plan.”
Take the two stories together and you get an important reminder. We are a bit player in the dramas the American politicians script for themselves. We - our politicians - are either leaning on the action hero for help or plotting to destroy a wild river.
It’s tough to make it to the end of the movie when you’re not the star.
Footnote: Meanwhile, a popular San Francisco column described Schwarzenegger’s Canadian connection as boring but necessary to promote trade. "There are sexier places,'' a unnamed member of “Arnold's Team Canada” was quoted. "But there is a ton of money involved -- and we absolutely have to go.''

1 comment:

Catmoves said...

I wouldn't worry too much about what anyone living in San Francisco has to say. But Schwartzenegger sending Terry Tamminen there a few weeks back is a definite sign he wanted the best man for the job. I wonder what the Governator is up to? Could he be sincere about Global Warming? Hmmmmm.