Talk of a deal on Keystone XL is foolhardy and presumptuous

This blog was co-drafted with Liz Barratt-Brown, NRDC Senior Advisor

It seems that when the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is dealt a blow, the talk of a deal in exchange for its going forward picks up a notch. Suddenly pundits and others feel free to suggest trading away a pipeline that thousands of students, Native Americans, ranchers and farmers, nurses and Nobel Laureates, and environmental groups are fighting to oppose. And they do so without thinking what it would mean to people living along its route, where a spill into their aquifer would ruin livelihoods. But most importantly, talk of a deal makes no sense as a deal involving approval of Keystone XL would defeat the very purpose of what these millions of people are trying to stop.


The latest talk of a deal is similar to a reported proposal a year and a half ago that would link the pipeline's approval with Canadian promises to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But granting Keystone XL's permit is the very thing that is going to push Canada's emissions to exceed any commitments it might make. The tar sands industry has made it clear that approval of Keystone XL is the linchpin to their expansion plans. And all that expansion means carbon emissions. It is as if Canada is asking, "If you let us expand the industry that is doing the most damage to the climate, we will promise to treat the climate better." Trading Keystone XL is akin to giving an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey who promises sobriety tomorrow. It just won't work.

The Canadian federal government has demonstrated it has no intention to reduce emissions from its rapidly expanding tar sands sector. This would have been an obvious strategy to show that change can be made on the ground and to convince skeptics that the impacts of Keystone XL have been overblown. Instead the government hired high priced lobbyists and to this day denies that Keystone XL has any impact on carbon emissions upstream.

For over seven years, it has repeatedly promised and failed to deliver on regulations that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its tar sands sector. Because of rapidly growing tar sands emissions, Canada is on track to miss its international climate targets by a wide margin. In fact, there are no federal or provincial regulations in place or under active consideration that would reduce emissions from Canada's tar sands sector let alone ensure it is decreasing rapidly.

Here are the details on Canada's climate record (from our report with Environmental Defence):

"Growing emissions from Canada's tar sands sector are more than enough to cancel out every other efforts in the country to reduce emissions."

- Kyoto Protocol: In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, with its emissions nearly 20 percent above its 1990 levels - higher than when it joined. Among the nations that ratified Kyoto, Canada is the only country to withdraw.

- Turning the Corner Plan: In 2008, the Canadian government released a plan calling for a 20 percent reduction from its 2006 emissions. It backed away from this target the next year during negotiation of the Copenhagen agreement.

- Copenhagen agreement: In 2009, Canada committed to reduce its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels as part of the Copenhagen agreement but the country is on track to miss its targets by a significant margin equivalent to the emissions produced by all the country's power plants.

- Regulations in oil and gas sector: The Canadian government has failed to adopt a single regulation to limit emissions from this sector, and they are set to skyrocket over the coming years and decades.

- Growth in tar sands cancels out provincial efforts: Rising emissions from the tar sands is expected to triple from 2005 levels by 2020 and cancel out any advances made by the provinces. Promised carbon capture has not materialized.

- Canada seeks to squelch, not advance, action on climate: Over the last decade, Canada has aggressively promoted the tar sands expansion as central to its achieving "energy superpower" status including stopping a clean fuels policy in Europe. It has reduced support for climate research, ceased all major federal programs to support renewable energy development, gutted environmental requirements, muzzled scientists from speaking about climate change, and continued significant subsidies to the oil and gas sector.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed a pledge of resistance led by CREDO and others promising civil disobedience if the permit were to be approved.

Thankfully the Obama Administration moved quickly this time to squelch talks of a deal. And Canada once again re-iterated there could be no emissions trade because they won't concede Keystone XL is a global warming issue. It seems that while pundits might want to opine, they are getting scant pick up from the two players that matter most.

As a community, we will keep reiterating that there must be no deal on Keystone XL - that it is impossible to "mitigate" or "offset" tar sands emissions, that approving Keystone XL is in conflict with making progress on climate, and that it would put the lands and livelihoods of our tar sands partners along the route at great risk.

It is time to reject the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.

About the Authors

Danielle Droitsch

Senior Policy Analyst, Canada Project

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