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MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: And this is NPR's Martin Kaste.

The pipeline fight in Washington has been understandably frustrating for Canada, and the conservative-led government there is particularly peeved at American environmental organizations. Here is Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver speaking to the CBC.

JOE OLIVER: Their objective is to prevent development of resources in Canada.

KASTE: On Monday, Oliver went on the offensive, accusing American greens of not only blocking the Keystone XL, but, worse, he says they're also trying to keep Canada from selling its oil to anybody.

OLIVER: There are some groups in the United States that do have that view, and they're sending money into Canada, and they're trying to game the system.

KASTE: The system the Americans are trying to game, he says, is this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUBLIC HEARING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, thank you, madam chair. And the next witness for the Haisla Nation is Clifford Smith.

KASTE: These are public hearings for a new pipeline that would run from Alberta to Canada's west coast to fill up oil tankers bound for Asia. The Canadians figure if the U.S. blocks the Keystone XL, that's all the more reason to make sure they can sell oil to China. The terminal would be near the village of Kitimat on British Columbia's wild northern coast. And the local Clifford Smith told the regulators that he worries about spills.

CLIFFORD SMITH: The proposed pipeline will come through our back door, and the ships will come in and transport the crude oil. We are indeed facing a double-barreled shotgun.

KASTE: These hearings are just getting started. An astonishing 4,500 people have signed up for a turn at the mic in towns and villages all along the pipeline route. And the process may drag on for two years. Kathryn Marshall calls it a mob-the-mic tactic.

KATHRYN MARSHALL: You know, signing up all kinds of people to speak on an issue, but they're all kind of saying the same things and they're being encouraged to sign up by one organization, kind of like a filibustering kind of campaign.

KASTE: Marshall runs a pro-industry organization called Ethical Oil, which is running radio ads right now in British Columbia.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Say no to foreign special interest groups and their paid activists. It's our country, our pipeline, our jobs.

KASTE: The ads call out environmental organizations by name. One of those is Ecojustice Canada.

KAREN CAMPBELL: And it's poppycock.

KASTE: Karen Campbell is a staff lawyer at Ecojustice. In her Vancouver office, she acknowledges the $275,000 received a few years ago from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in California, but she says that hardly means Ecojustice is somehow under American control.

CAMPBELL: These are positions that we have taken and would be taking, and it's fortuitous. And it's great for us that there is support from foreign foundations for this.

KASTE: She points out that American money weighs heavily on the other side of this debate. American oil companies have a big stake in Alberta. Campbell is visibly shaken by the government's attack on environmental organizations. She says she's just not used to this kind of political intensity.

CAMPBELL: What's happening here is just so un-Canadian, and it's almost too American for me. And - but that's what it is.

KASTE: But others say it's not so new. Margaret Wente, a columnist for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, says natural resource battles can be deeply divisive in Canada, and invoking the ugly American is an old tactic.

MARGARET WENTE: Historically, Canadians have been hypersensitive to American influence and the suspicion that American money is playing a part in Canadian politics. And Canadians don't like to be pushed around by Americans.

KASTE: But usually, it's business interests that are accused of being under American control. What's new about this situation, she says, is that the tables have been turned, and now it's the environmentalists who find themselves accused of being the lackeys of the nefarious Yanks. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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