Tar sands makes a trade bully of Canada

As the U.S. is drafting new rules to reduce carbon pollution, the Canadian government is once again letting its opinion be known. Is Canada pledging to work alongside the U.S. to curb carbon pollution? No - our neighbor to the north is letting its greed for tar sands oil drive efforts to undermine U.S. attempts to fight climate change.

Just in the last month, EPA announced it would move forward with the ruling that the carbon pollution that causes global warming is a danger to public health and welfare, the House released a discussion draft of a new comprehensive climate and energy bill, and the California low carbon fuel standard regulations were adopted. And just this week, the Midwest took a giant step toward building a clean energy future for the region and the nation with a greenhouse gas accord proposal for the Midwest Governor's Association with a target of 18-20% emissions reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels. We see steady movement toward reducing carbon pollution all over the United States.

Far from working in parallel on improving its own carbon pollution regulation, Canada has threatened to challenge both the new California low carbon fuel standard and the U.S. federal efforts to reduce carbon pollution under international trade law. Odd how the Canadian government seems comfortable taking on the role of trade bully, even though its rhetoric in recent international meetings to address climate change, promised Canada would put "broadly similar" greenhouse gas reduction targets in place as the United States.

The California low carbon fuel standard regulations were passed by the California Air Resources Board April 23, 2009. Just two days before, the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources wrote to California Governor Schwarzenegger raising the specters of trade repercussions for California. This type of threat can only mean that Canada has put protection of the tar sands oil industry above protection of its citizens from climate change.

Canadian Environment Minister Prentice in Washington, D.C. this week broadened Canadian trade threats to the emerging federal climate and energy legislation in the United States. The international section of the draft law promotes a strong global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tries to ensure that carbon pollution occurring outside of the United States does not undermine U.S. attempts to reduce carbon pollution. Minister Prentice actually called this part of the draft law a "prescription for disaster." If Canada is planning to have a comparable climate change program to the United States, why would it worry about the need for some industry in some countries without a comparable system to purchase carbon emission allowance when exporting to the United States? Canada is not acting like a country serious about fighting climate change.

Emissions from the tar sands are making it impossible for Canada to meet the commitments it has already made to fight climate change. Just recently, the new Environment Canada greenhouse-gas inventory showed Canada's total emissions have taken off thanks in part to the tar sands. The inventory showed that Canadian emissions are 33.8 percent above Canada's Kyoto commitment. Instead of getting serious about its climate plan and reducing carbon and pollution and other environmental problems from the tar sands, the tar sands oil industry is driving Canada to undermine U.S. attempts to reduce carbon pollution.

For too many years, progress to spur economic growth through investments in energy efficiency and clean energy sources was held hostage in the United States. We do not want to be held hostage any longer - especially not by interests in newer forms of dirty fuel such as tar sands, oil shale and liquid coal. Canada should drop the trade bully card and get serious about dealing with the tar sands and with its own climate policy. In the United States, we are building a new clean energy economy - it is Canada's choice whether they fight us or whether they join us.

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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