Weak Canadian climate policies one more reason to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

President Obama in recent comments about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline got it right when he said that Canada has not yet addressed the harmful carbon pollution from its rapidly growing tar sands industry.  Not only has Canada failed to enact effective climate policies, it has given a green light to triple tar sands production by 2030 which will lead to a significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions.  And all of this growth in climate pollution would be enabled by the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It is important that the U.S. is taking a hard look at the Canadian government’s open support for the tar sands industry. The truth is that the current Canadian Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is weakening Canada’s most cherished environmental laws to enable the tar sands industry to grow unimpeded.  Rather than take aggressive actions to address the rapid rise in carbon pollution, Canada has instead invested in public relations efforts in the United States to mask its failed climate record.  Canada will not meet its international obligation and its goal to reduce climate emissions, and the reason is the growth of the tar sands industry. This is yet one more reason to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline which is not in America’s interest and should be denied.

Canada has failed to control the rapidly growing emissions from its tar sands industry but also to meet its international climate commitments.    In fact, the federal Canadian government and the provincial Alberta government have approved new tar sands projects that would enable industry to triple production.  This would lead to an increase tar sands emissions by 250  percent based on an evaluation of existing operations.   Claims that Canada is a climate leader have been debunked.

  • Canada is on track to miss its international climate commitments by a wide margin.  The growth of greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands sector is the major barrier to enabling Canada to meet its international climate target of a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 – a target Canada shares with the US. In fact, the Government of Canada projects that its current policies will allow national emissions will grow from today’s level, with the result that Canada will miss its 2020 target by 113 million metric tons CO2e, or significantly more than the current emissions of Canada’s entire passenger transportation sector.  This is the result of the country’s rising tar sands emissions, which are expected to double this decade alone.  There are no policies in place or even proposed that would put Canada back on track to reach its target – one which the United States is now on track to meet.
  • The Alberta government, which has presided over the rapid growth of the tar sands industry, has considerably weak climate policies.   Even if the Alberta government were to adopt more ambitious policies than what is currently in place, it is very likely they will fail to tackle the problem of tar sands emissions.   
  • Technologies such as Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) to reduce tar sands emissions is only proposed for use by one tar sands upgrading facility.  Even after the provincial and federal governments have been dangling billions of dollars in tax subsidies, the tar sands industry still does not use CCS for tar sands operations.  Just to keep emissions from tar sands production at their current levels, Alberta would need the equivalent of 49 million metric tons or nearly 41 similar CCS projects to address this carbon pollution growth.
  • The Canadian government has promised and failed to deliver new regulations to tackle the tar sands sector for more than six years.  But more importantly, proposals currently being floated for consideration will very likely fail to get its growing tar sands emissions under control.  There is little possibility of Canada imposing stringent regulations that would effectively tackle tar sands industry emissions.  Canada often points to its coal regulations as evidence of Canada’s aggressive leadership on climate but the actual regulations allow every coal-fired power plant to operate between 45-50 years before they are subject to any greenhouse gas limits.
  • The Canadian government has pursued a comprehensive effort to deregulate the tar sands industry wiping out major environmental laws to enable the industry’s growth.   See this Washington Post article, “Canadian government overhauling environmental rules to aid oil extraction.” The Conservative party has passed two legislative bills that have weakened nearly every major environmental law in Canada.  The outrage over this attack on Canada’s environmental laws resulted in an unprecedented response from more than 500 civil society organizations including labour unions, human rights advocates and environmental groups to oppose this unparalleled effort to support the tar sands industry.  More recently, the Alberta government has introduced new regulations that would remove federal review of tar sands drilling operations.
  • Independent reports point to comprehensive failures in oversight and enforcement of Canada’s tar sands industry.  Canada’s Auditor General has reported that Canada’s tar sands boom is not adequately regulated or enforced.  A new independent review demonstrates how Alberta’s regulatory system to prevent and enforce tar sands operations is lax and failing.

All of the evidence above points to how the Canadian government is not serious about tackling the problems from its tar sands industry not just in terms of its climate emissions but its total impact on water, air, land, and local communities.   

President Obama clearly outlined that the U.S. administration will evaluate the pipeline based on whether it will significantly exacerbate climate change.  NRDC has outlined in detail how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would add 935 million to 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere- a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the 50-year life span of the project.  These emissions are comparable to new efficiency standards for heavy trucks put into place by the Obama administration.  And the tar sands industry’s plans to expand will lead to an even greater carbon pollution increase. 

In this most recent interview, President Obama was asked whether Canada could do something to mitigate the carbon pollution from the pipeline. 

On the one hand, Canada must do more to address its growing tar sands problem.  Canada clearly has a very long way to go to address its soaring emissions, including the adoption of extremely aggressive climate policies that are not even under serious consideration by the federal government. But there is nothing to indicate the current Harper government has any inclination to do anything but maintain support for its favored tar sands industry.  

Let’s keep in mind there are a long list of other reasons this pipeline is not in America’s national interest and climate impacts are just one of them.  This pipeline brings a risk of a likely spill which would contaminate U.S. water supplies in America’s heartland.   Keystone XL will also lead to unacceptable increases in toxic air pollution from refineries on the Gulf Coast adding even more pollution to communities who have been battling air pollution for decades. 

President Obama himself even outlined how Keystone XL is not in America’s national interest.  President Obama acknowledged that Keystone XL is not a major job creator, is an export pipeline which will not provide the U.S. with energy security, and could potentially increase gas prices.

And all of these impacts from the pipeline on climate, water, air, and local communities make Keystone XL not in America’s interest.  Canada’s weak climate policies are yet one more reason to reject the tar sands pipeline.  A decision by Canada to improve its climate policies is needed but does not make Keystone XL acceptable. This pipeline is not in America’s national interest.  President Obama himself explained why.  It is time to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Let President Obama know how you feel at www.stoptar.org.