A chilly D.C. greeting for tar sands oil

With our first real snow storm of the winter predicted for Monday morning, the greeting for tar sands oil this week in Washington is likely to be as chilly as the weather. The Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice arrives in D.C. for a series of meetings Monday and Tuesday as follow up to the US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue announced when President Obama went to Canada on February 19. But while Minister Prentice likely has the tar sands on his list of things to discuss, I don't think this topic will meet with a warm greeting in a town focused on increasing clean energy and tackling global warming.

Coincidentally, the Administration is not the only place focused on clean energy this week in Washington. Twelve thousand people from all over the U.S. and Canada have been meeting all weekend at the Powershift youth summit focused on fighting climate change and building a clean energy future. Monday is lobby day and they will be taking their message to the Hill. An important part of that message is that tar sands oil has no place in a future where fighting global warming is a top priority.

 Monday morning at 9:00 am, a delegation of Indigenous youth from Alberta will be delivering a letter to Senator Kerry's office protesting the what tar sands oil extraction has done to their communities and rallying with supporters ahead of Prentice's visit to Capitol Hill. They'll be at the main entrance to Russell - rain, snow or shine-with banners and "Stop Tar Sands Now" picket signs.

Also on Monday morning, NRDC and many of our partner organizations will send a letter to Administrator Jackson and Secretary Chu - both of whom are meeting with Minister Prentice. We are part of a growing chorus of voices in the U.S. and Canada among the public, cities, states, provinces, local communities and many others about the environmental and health damage of the tar sands industry and other dirty fuels. We are asking that the newly announced dialogue focus on clean energy solutions and meaningful climate policies, and not on expansion of dirty fuels such as tar sands oil.

The current Alberta and Canadian systems for addressing global warming are inadequate in terms of carbon reductions and we do not see stricter standards on the near horizon in either jurisdiction, despite provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba making strides forward. Additionally, while Canada might propose a "technological" fix to the massive environmental problems posed by the tar sands oil industry, there are no ready technologies, funding, or demonstrable political commitment to cleaning up the greenhouse gas emissions, slowing the creation of toxic tailings ponds, reversing the profound impacts on First Nations communities at tar sands ground zero, or addressing the damage to the Boreal forest. 

 We are urging that the Administration:

Focus the Clean Energy Dialogue on renewable energy and energy efficiency: The Annex released following the meeting between the President and Prime Minister notes that "the U.S. and Canada are collaborating on energy research related to advanced biofuels, clean engines, and energy efficiency." The main focus of the dialogue should be on these environmentally sustainable efforts and expanded to include wind, solar, and other renewable fuels and on transportation solutions such as advanced batteries and high speed rail.

Encourage Canada to move in parallel with the U.S. on the development of meaningful climate policies: The Canadian government's climate policies fall short in that they are based on "intensity targets" and do not include absolute reduction targets. Their stimulus package also falls far short of the U.S. stimulus package for spending on renewable energy on a per capita basis. Although several provinces have made commitments to low carbon fuel standards, the Canadian federal government and Alberta have not yet supported these. Canada should not be allowed to hide behind the "Clean Energy Dialogue" at the Copenhagen international climate meeting next December.

Exclude tar sands from discussion of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology: Arguments that tar sands expansion can go forward on the basis that CCS will "fix" its carbon footprint are not defensible. CCS would likely only reduce 10-20% of the overall greenhouse gases associated with its total lifecycle emissions making it still dirtier than conventional fuel, and it is fraught with technical challenges. A 2008 Canadian government CCS task force found that "only a small portion of the CO2 streams are currently amenable for CCS." This is because facilities in the tar sands are diverse and geographically dispersed requiring the construction of a massive infrastructure. There are also substantial transportation emissions associated with production, many of the carbon streams are not pure enough to capture adequately, and we are only starting to understand the greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands that are associated with land use change. CCS also does not address the myriad of other environmental challenges in the tar sands nor does it address the issue of downstream combustion emissions.

Chilly though these first days of March may have turned, it is heartwarming to see thousands of youth on the march for a better energy future and to know that we finally have an Administration that is making this a priority.