Tar sands oil: not the path to long-term prosperity

Beyond the applause and happy smiles in tonight's Presidential address, what made me realize that we are in a new era was how the President wove his energy agenda throughout the speech. What a difference from the Presidential addresses of the past eight years where if energy and environment were mentioned they had their own little section near the end of the speech seemingly unrelated to anything of importance in our society. Instead the President started early with the fact that we import more oil today than ever before as an example of how we have mistakenly prized short term gains over long term prosperity in the past.

Over the last ten years, we have seen an expansion of investment in dirty fuels such as tar sands oil in Canada. This is a source of transportation fuel that has definitely been a short-term gain rather than a step towards long-term prosperity. Ft. McMurray, as the epicenter of strip-mining of the Boreal forest for tar sands oil, knew short-term gains - but in the long-term their water, land and air are likely to be poisoned. Downstream, the community of Ft. Chipewyan saw short-term employment, but long-term it is seeing a growth in rare forms of cancer in its people and fish with two mouths in its waters. Alberta knew short-term financial gains, but in the long-term, the recession has come home in recent days and the province will still need to deal with a legacy of Boreal forest turned to wasteland and over 80 square miles of dams of toxic mining waste. Canada saw short-term gains from tar sands oil profits, but long-term the global warming pollution emissions and other environmental and health damage from the tar sands is tarnishing Canada's international reputation and keeping it from meeting its commitment to fight global warming.

And what would continued expansion of tar sands oil mean for America? In the long-term, rather than prosperity, it will bring us additional air and water pollution from the pipelines and refinery expansions that it would require in our Midwest, Rockies and Gulf Coast states. It would bring us additional global warming pollution from extraction, upgrading, refining and end use in our cars, trucks and planes - something that threatens our health and security. Tar sands extraction harms our migratory, backyard birds that nest in the Boreal forests and wetlands under which the tar sands are found. Tar sands is not part of the path to long-term prosperity that the President encouraged us to tred.

Early in his speech, when the President listed the three areas he called "absolutely critical" - the first was energy. Specifically, the President named the need for a carbon cap to help drive our investment into clean, renewable energy and to make it profitable. With initiatives to increase energy efficiency and energy conservation and to develop technologies such as plug in hybrid cars mentioned by the President, we will not need tar sands oil. The energy policies outlined by the President make it clear that a dirty and destructive fuel such as tar sands is part of our mistaken past and does not have a place in a future based on striving for energy and transportation solutions that will result in long-term prosperity.