skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s Blog

Tar sands makes a trade bully of Canada

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted May 14, 2009

, , , ,
Share | | |

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.

Share | | |


Keith VelderbrookMay 14 2009 08:46 PM

Didn't you even read the article you sourced! I realize you quoted the national post, Canada's conservative newspaper, however you could at least take the time to appreciate this issue from a conservative standpoint.

Firstly, what the US is proposing is to add essentially a tariff onto any product that is imported into the United States, which is pretty clearly a protectionist measure. What it means to do is to reduce the dependency of the US on foreign imports (the same thing as the buy american policy).

(If you haven't realized it yet I'm Canadian)

What you fail to say in your article is that this legislation is in fact suicide for international trade. It is a blatant way for American legislatures to bypass NAFTA, and is the wrong approach to dealing with Climate Change. A better solution would be to for the United States and Canada to come up with emissions standards for transport trucks, something you sort of mentioned in your article, but failed to provide proof of Canada's wrongdoings in this regard. I have found the opposite in fact to be true, the most our environment minister has said on the issue has been to say that the US should stick with a national car emissions standard, and not state by state. I have read nothing to indicate that Canada has said it is against standardizing our emissions standards with the United States. The solutions to global warming lie in working with domestic and international markets, and not against them.

This anti-tar sand rhetoric doesn't help the green movement either. The tar sands aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I don't deny that they are incredible filthy, but they are a Canadian concern, not an American one. Canada is quite thorough in its environmental clean ups and has a number of agencies dedicated to environmental protection, unlike the other countries the US gets its oil from (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc).

I don't particularly think my government has done a good job at dealing with climate change, however that doesn't mean i wouldn't vote for them in a second. They are the only major conservative party in my country, and the only ones who will ever come up with a viable way of managing the environment and our economy.

All that I can say about the rest of your article is its a shame that you had to distort the truth. Your anti-Canada rhetoric is about ten years off, Blame Canada is sooo 1999.

John LiffeeMay 14 2009 11:21 PM


The tar sands ... are a Canadian concern, not an American one.

What, does carbon pollution from the Tar Sands (being Canadian, and thus famously polite) stay confined within Canadian borders?

Discouraging further development of the Tar Sands is no more about free trade than outlawing import of conflict diamonds is. There's nothing wrong with using policy instruments to steer the global economy toward a smarter path.

Connie BresnahanMay 15 2009 02:31 PM

As another Canadian, I don't consider Susan's comments anti-Canadian, rather, anti-Canadian policy regarding pollution and curbing GHG emmissions. No problem there.

Where on earth did you get your information on this: "Canada is quite thorough in its environmental clean ups and has a number of agencies dedicated to environmental protection" ?????

This week, a Federal Commission on Tar Sands and Water heard testimony (Edmonton and Calgary) from scientists, ecologists, First Nations, environmental groups, oilsands corporations etc.... the message is: Canada has dropped the ball on ensuring 'environmental cleanups', further, the 'agencies dedicated to environmental protection' have been, quite frankly, willfully blind for decades and cannot seem to get their collective regulatory policies aligned in order to do what is neccessary. What a mess.

Not only is this an environmental issue of huge porportions, but a constitutes a social justice travesty that should NOT be part of Canada. I'm all for some USA pressure to ensure we clean up our act and start walking the talk on GHG emmissions, and start respecting and honoring FN Treaty rights to livelihood (uncontaminated country foods and water) of First Nations peoples directly impacted by Tar Sands development. As I have heard over and over from people throughout the Athabasca Basin - Enough is Enough.

Connie Bresnahan
Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council

Red DesertMay 15 2009 09:07 PM

Yanks like Canadians, it's the Albertans we're not so sure about.

Last I heard, that government was soon to fall. What ever happened to the Parliament up there anyway? Still getting on without one?

Richard LevangieMay 17 2009 01:42 PM

It's obvious that Keith doesn't understand the issues. The Conservative government in Canada has been a disaster for the environment and a disaster for the Canadian economy (I live in Nova Scotia, BTW).

But let me leave all that behind, and let me explain the issue simply in terms a Conservative should understand. Climate change is happening far faster than even the most dire predictions of five years ago.

We can spend 2% of GDP right now to head off the worst of it by moving to renewable and low-carbon sources of energy.

Or we can continue business as usual for another 25 years, at which time responding to climate change* will require 33% of GDP.

* To cope with water shortages, crop failures, coastal flooding, hurricane damages, drought, and so on. (I work in environmental publishing, so I can provide links to all, and do so at One Blue Marble... For instance, did you know that the US Department of Transportation expects that by 2050 climate change will make 27 percent of major roads, 9 percent of rail lines and 74 percent of ports vulnerable to flooding just from expected rises in sea level?

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In