One more reason we don’t need tar sands oil


Today the Obama Administration proposed the first national limits on global warming pollution from cars and trucks along with strengthened fuel economy standards. This will cut global warming pollution from vehicles by 30 percent, save 1.3 million barrels a day of oil by 2020 and will save drivers thousands of dollars over the life of their vehicle.

This is what the public wants: solutions that allow them to get around, save money, and reduce their dependence on oil. But as Canada's Prime Minister arrives in Washington this week to meet with President Obama on Wednesday, this doesn't seem to be what his government wants. Prime Minister Harper has been an avid peddler of high-carbon tar sands oil. He doesn't seem to realize that tar sands oil represents the last gasp of an industry that doesn't want to change.

Prime Minister Harper and President Obama have now met a number of times since the President's trip to Canada last February. At each meeting, climate and energy has been on the agenda. At this meeting, as at past meetings, the elephant in the room, not openly discussed, but taking up a lot of space, is tar sands.  

Tar sands are not just something that is happening far away in Canada: tar sands oil development has a direct impact on the average American - with a network of new pipelines that threaten to lock us in to dependence on oil - proposed to bring the heavy crude to the United States and new and expanded upgraders and refineries being proposed with the many water, air and global warming pollution problems. 

Tar sands expansion undercuts our ability both politically and substantively to decarbonize our fuel supply - Canada is lobbying to weaken any part of U.S. climate legislation that requires life cycle assessment of fuel carbon emissions - something that would force Canada to address the high global warming pollution from tar sands oil extraction. 

There are much better energy solutions than expanded imports of tar sands oil. My colleague Luke Tonachel calculates that we can reduce U.S. oil use by 4.2 million barrels per day by 2020 and 10 mbd in 2030. This is based on fuel efficiency, transit, moving some transportation to the electric grid that includes wind and solar, and advances in aviation fuels to name a few.

As Americans, we want to see Canada withdraw its tarry finger from our climate and energy legislation. At a minimum, we'd like to see Canada put a greenhouse gas emissions cap in place that includes the tar sands sector and work seriously to clean up existing tar sands operations. Better yet, we'd like to see Canada match the United States in green stimulus spending, fuel efficiency standards, and vehicle global warming pollution standards. Wouldn't it be better if we could move forward together to a clean energy future, rather than having Canada try to hold us back?