The most important story about the American economy is the one that gets the least attention. America has enormous, incalculable, untapped potential to revolutionize its economy through industrial progress–through far greater productivity in energy production, in manufacturing, in construction, in mining, in transportation. But our industrial progress is halted by a labyrinth of so-called “green” policies–policies that have nothing to do with protecting Americans from pollution, and everything to do with protecting wilderness from Americans. At Center for Industrial Progress, we call this The Green Gauntlet.
One of our neighbors to the North, Canada’s Joe Oliver, Minister of Nature Resources, recently released a vivid rebuke of this gauntlet.
As a country, we must seek new markets for our products and services and the booming Asia-Pacific economies have shown great interest in our oil, gas, metals and minerals. For our government, the choice is clear: we need to diversify our markets in order to create jobs and economic growth for Canadians across this country. We must expand our trade with the fast growing Asian economies. We know that increasing trade will help ensure the financial security of Canadians and their families.
Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.
These groups 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. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.
Anyone looking at the record of approvals for certain major projects across Canada cannot help but come to the conclusion that many of these projects have been delayed too long. In many cases, these projects would create thousands upon thousands of jobs for Canadians, yet they can take years to get started due to the slow, complex and cumbersome regulatory process.
For example, the Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline review took more than nine years to complete. In comparison, the western expansion of the nation-building Canadian Pacific Railway under Sir John A. Macdonald took four years. Under our current system, building a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff required the approval of the federal government. This delayed a decision by two months. Two valuable months to assess something that thousands of Canadians have been doing for over a century.
It is exciting to see a prominent official blast Green obstruction of industrial progress. Unfortunately, Oliver’s statement of the solution is not nearly as compelling as his statement of the problem.
Our regulatory system must be fair, independent, consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities, review the evidence dispassionately and then make an objective determination. It must be based on science and the facts. We believe reviews for major projects can be accomplished in a quicker and more streamlined fashion.
In other words, Canadians have no right to use and develop their property as they see fit–but we should “streamline” the process of determining whether a plethora of pressure groups will grant them permission or not.
As long as anti-industrial voices have a say in the use of other people’s property, it’s hard to see how Canada’s industrial situation will progress much.
The solution to the Green Gauntlet is universal property rights, the original American industrial and environmental policy. As I wrote recently:
The [original American] policy was simple and profound: the government’s job was to protect everyone’s property rights–whether a developer who wanted to build a pipeline or a potential victim of the pipeline’s pollution.
…As for the “environmental impact” on other species, that was up to land-owners. Everyone was free to buy property for whatever purpose he chose, whether to run a pipeline or build a house or enjoy wildlife or all three. But no one could dictate what someone else did with his land. Companies with new projects bought up land or acquired land-use rights from others, and they could build factors, railroads, oil refineries, etc. to the best of their ability.
The result of such a policy was profound: when individuals truly owned and could use their own property, there was no gap between their ideas and their implementation. This is the phenomenon I have referred to as“Energy at the Speed of Thought”–or, more broadly, industry at the speed of thought.
Right now, both Canada and the US are experiencing industry at the speed of government permission. It’s time for our politicians to rediscover property rights.