Dear Mr. President: Don’t Let the Canadian Prime Minister Go South on Global Warming When You Go North

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When I mentioned around the office that Canada had proposed to our new President-to-be that the ever growing greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil development be "protected" from global warming regulations -- the response was disbelief. "Preposterous!" is how one colleague put it.

Harper faces an uphill battle in his proposal for the United States to overlook the fastest growing source of global warming pollution in Canada. Global warming will be of importance throughout the Obama Administration -- starting with the creation of a new White House post to oversee and coordinate the administration's work on energy and climate issues that will be filled by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner. Just today in his confirmation hearing, Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate physicist tapped to lead the Energy Department, warned of the dire consequences of unchecked global warming. Senator Hillary Clinton in her confirmation hearing today said that climate change is an "unambiguous security threat" and pledged an energy policy to reduce our carbon emissions.

This morning, NRDC along with partners in Canada sent a letter to President-elect Obama voicing concerns about the Canadian climate pact proposal.

As is traditional, the President will visit Canada soon after inauguration and Prime Minister Harper said today that tar sands will be on the agenda. There will be much to discuss and reconcile between the U.S. and Canadian approaches to global warming pollution regulation. The Canadian government's approach to addressing climate change emissions is a carbon intensity approach -- versus an absolute limits approach -- which is significantly weaker than the cap and trade program supported by President-elect Obama. In addition, Canada is expected to significantly exceed its Kyoto targets, with tar sands operations likely accounting for half of the 24 percent increase in emissions projected between 2006-2020.

In contrast, President-elect Obama has committed that the United States will become a leader in fighting global warming. His economic agenda and energy plan view moving towards a clean energy economy as an economic opportunity and one that Canada would do well to join.

In that context, the Obama Administration is going to want to figure out how to deal with environmentally unsustainable, high-carbon fuels. Large-scale development of tar sands oil (and other high carbon fuels such as oil shale and liquid coal) as a transportation fuel is fundamentally incompatible with the deep greenhouse gas reductions necessary to solve global warming that President-elect Obama supports. Tar sands oil development also has adverse impacts on sensitive ecosystems, and is inconsistent with the need to reduce oil dependency to enhance long-term energy security. We have recommended that immediate steps be taken to signal that it is the policy of the new administration to discourage investment in high carbon fuels and encourage investment in low carbon fuels and other types of clean energy and fuel solutions.

And what of a climate proposal that would somehow protect tar sands oil extraction from greenhouse gas pollution limits? Preposterous!