Uncommon Ground over Tar Sands and Climate

Over the next few days, Canadian provincial leaders are visiting Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association conference – finding common ground with their neighbors to the south that they are not finding with Canadian tar sands provinces and the Canadian federal government.

The most vocal Canadian lobby in Washington these days on energy are tar sands oil supporters – in the shape of the oil industry, the Canadian federal government and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. So, it will be refreshing to welcome provinces that are focused on building a clean energy economy this week.

Just last December at the climate conference in Copenhagen, divisions in Canada over climate and tar sands erupted in public. Ontario and Quebec – home to two-thirds of Canadians - called on Canada to take a tougher position on greenhouse gas emissions. These provinces see Canada’s protection of the tar sands oil industry as unfair and are not willing to bear a higher carbon emissions reduction burden to allow tar sands oil pollution a free range.

If the United States expands imports of tar sands oil, we will also be expanding import of pollution. The high pressure oil pipelines that transport the tar sands to refineries in the United States have been known to leak and spill and they will be crossing America’s agricultural heartland. To accommodate this drastic increase in imports of heavy crudes, many refineries would have to be retooled with expensive, carbon-intensive, and polluting equipment. Refining tar sands oil creates vast amounts air, water, and global warming pollution. Further, this new infrastructure in the United States would cost billions of dollars that could be put to use for creation of clean energy jobs here at home.

The U.S. and Canadian leaders will also find a lot of common ground through their existing work together in the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord (in which Manitoba is a member and Ontario an observer) and the Western Climate Initiative (in which British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are all members and Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are observers). Of interest to all of these initiatives are questions about coordinating regional programs to cap greenhouse gas emissions, putting renewable energy into the electricity grid, increasing clean energy jobs, and reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

But hopefully, they will also find common ground in pushing back against high-carbon fuels and in fighting for economy-wide limits on greenhouse gas emissions in both of our countries. Canada has said that it will follow what the U.S. does on climate change pollution regulation, yet it has long-standing commitments to fight climate change that it has not yet implemented. And tar sands oil interests have been actively lobbying to weaken U.S. climate initiatives. This week’s meetings should send a message that we need the federal governments to implement economy-wide caps on greenhouse gas emissions and limits on expansion of high-carbon fuels such as tar sands oil.

See this backgrounder for further information.