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Canadian diplomats fight to keep tar sands oil “a-flowin”

Interview with Danielle Droitsch of the Pembina Institute

It’s good to know our tax dollars are paying Canadian diplomats to fight the good fight in Washington on behalf of those hard-luck oil companies working in Alberta’s tar sands. Postmedia news is reporting that our diplomats have quietly asked oil-industry players such as Exxon Mobil and BP to help “kill” U.S. global-warming policies in order to ensure that “the oil keeps a-flowing” from Alberta into the U.S. marketplace.

Apparently unaware of either the climate change crisis or the exceedingly high levels of greenhouse gases emanating from the tar sands, the officials proposed instead to “kill any interpretation” of American energy legislation that would apply to the tar sands industry. “We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing,” wrote Jason Tolland, from the Canadian Embassy in an exchange of emails with government trade lawyers Feb. 8, 2008.

The correspondence reveals that the Canadian diplomats had contacted officials from the American Petroleum Institute – an industry association – as well as from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Encana Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. One email sent by Paul Connors, who at the time was an energy counsellor at the embassy, encouraged an official with Exxon Mobil to get involved in the political debate against the legislation.

The correspondence was released to the Pembina Institute who obtained it through an access-to-information request.

To find out more about this, I spoke with Danielle Droitsch, the Director of U.S. policy for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian not-for-profit think tank focused on developing innovative sustainable energy solutions. We also discussed the shifting political ground in the United States. With the Republican Party taking control of the House of Representatives this week, what does this mean for climate change policy in North America?

In his first two years on the job, President Obama has thus far failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Now his administration wants to introduce regulations to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Upon taking office, Obama directed the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that will raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks to 35-miles per gallon by 2020 (6.7 litres per 100 km) from the current 27-mpg standard. Last year, Canada followed suit, issuing guidelines for 2011 model year vehicles that are identical to the U.S. CAFE standards.

And just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules requiring all new industrial plants or major expansions to acquire permits for emitting carbon dioxide and other GHGs. The Obama administration has also announced plans to impose new emission rules on power plants and refineries.

Back here in Canada, the former Environment Minister, John Baird, indicated this week that Canada would not adopt a similar approach but will broadly match the U.S. regulatory approach. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long indicated that Canada would harmonize emissions reductions efforts with the U.S. Now that the Obama administration is taking measures to regulate industrial emissions, what will the Harper government do? Was all the talk of harmonization simply empty rhetoric or will we see some action at long last? Time will tell.

And will Obama even be able to push through the proposed new regulations? The new Republican House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated that one of his party’s top priorities for the coming session will be to block the new EPA regulations however they can.

In my interview with Danielle Droitsch, she discusses what lies ahead for U.S. and Canadian climate policy given the recent political shifts.

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