U.S. CEOs to Obama: Reject "dealmaking" on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The leaders of 25 major environmental organizations including NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke sent a clear message to President Obama to reject any “deal-making” on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Initial concerns about a possible arrangement between Canada and the United States for approval of Keystone XL surfaced in early September after the Canadian media broke a story that Harper had sent Obama a letter indicating that Canada “is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions.”  An emphatic response to this proposal came from America’s top environmentalists with a letter sent to President Obama from 25 of some of the largest domestic and international environmental groups in the U.S. including NRDC.  Approving Keystone XL in exchange for climate promises from Canada is not only incompatible with combatting global warming but is unacceptable given Canada’s poor climate record.  The letter highlights the well-documented climate impact potential of tar sands development and Canada’s push to triple tar sands production by 2030. In short, Canada’s record of breaking promises to address carbon pollution from its tar sands industry makes it a poor candidate to make good on any agreement to address climate. 

As the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline debate has continued for several years over the impacts to climate, public health, land use, and freshwater impacts, the Government of Canada and the Province of Alberta have failed to take aggressive action to address the substantial impacts of tar sands mining and drilling operations.   On the issue of climate, Canada has a dismal record:

“[t]he Harper government previously promised to take action to cut pollution across industry, but never followed through with its 2008 plan. Carbon pollution from the tar sands is now projected to be twice as high in 2020 as envisioned under that plan.” 

NRDC has documented the stark truth behind the Canadian Government’s environmental promises.  Not only did Canada withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, it has failed to pass strong emissions regulations from its coal-fired power plant sector and completely failed to adopt new regulations, as promised for over 6 years, for its tar sands industry.  At the provincial level, Alberta (the home of the tar sands industry) recently released a wetlands policy that not only allows industry to buy the right to destroy wetlands, but also completely ignores the role wetlands play in climate mitigation.  There is simply no compelling evidence that the Canadian Government has any interest in keeping its environmental promises or admitting that its actions are adversely affecting climate change.

Most who follow the Keystone XL tar sands issue know by now that Prime Minister Harper has thrown the weight of the Canadian Government behind getting the pipeline built. Because Keystone XL is often described as a “linchpin” for expanding tar sands production, allowing Keystone XL to be built is tantamount to enabling this expansion.  Given the carbon intensity of producing tar sands oil—not to mention the added climate and water impacts related to production’s land use practices—there is no evidence that Canada could meet its promises given its focus to triple tar sands production.

While the letter initially reported has never surfaced publicly, Prime Minister Harper himself acknowledged that letter’s existence. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has said it has “no knowledge of such a letter.”  Whether the letter, and its purported promise to begin working on greenhouse gas regulations, exists is beside the point.  Canada has simply shown no sign that it can, will, or wants to live up to its side of any bargain on cutting GHG emissions.  Instead, there is every indication that it is planning to do just the opposite. 

The fact is that over the past several years while the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline grew into an international controversy, Canada could have worked hard to adopt strong climate policies that aggressively addressed its tar sands industry’s climate program.  But instead, they did the opposite going so far as to break climate promises they already made to the international community.   And they have been growing their tar sands industry at an extremely rapid pace hoping no one would notice.  An offer from Canada should not muddy the waters on what has already been clear: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward for our climate and water. The right message to protect our climate is to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.