Our Message to Madam Speaker

Blog - Sept. 7, 2010 - By Marlo Raynolds

It's not every day that the third most powerful U.S. politician comes to visit Ottawa. It's even more rare when a big part of her visit focuses on a key environmental issue — the mismanagement of the oilsands. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's visit coincides with growing U.S. opposition to a massive oilsands pipeline called the Keystone XL, something she, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is being pressured to investigate by many in her party.

We are encouraged that Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Edward Markey, Chairman of the influential Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, have chosen to reach out to environmental and First Nations representatives in addition to politicians and industry spokespeople. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Our organizations, the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence, will have an opportunity to meet with her tomorrow to put forward our perspective on how regulators in Ottawa and Edmonton are failing to do their job with regards to the environmental impacts of the oilsands industry, and what U.S. political leaders can do about it.

Our message in a nutshell will be this: The environmental problems associated with oilsands development will not improve without a signal from its largest customer — the U.S. Indeed, the Canadian government has repeatedly said that it will not lead, but merely follow the U.S. in matters of climate and energy.

Virtually every environmental indicator in the oilsands — greenhouse gas pollution, toxic waste generation, acid rain, habitat destruction and fresh water use — is getting worse because Canada and Alberta are failing to establish or enforce absolute limits on the industry.

What's worse, both levels of government engage in active denial of the impacts — such as claiming that pollution is "natural," a claim recently turned on its head by Dr. David Schindler's independent study on the Athabasca River.

In the bigger picture, oilsands development holds hostage Canadian climate policy, and diverts resources and attention away from a transition to a clean energy economy.

Canada could be a leader in a clean energy transition. With huge potential in renewable energy, it could also assist the U.S. with more exports of clean electricity. Instead, Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill for politicians to lobby against low carbon legislation in the U.S., in order to protect the oilsands industry. 

The U.S. commitment to clean energy will necessarily force them to confront the problems with oil sands, which have a significant environmental impact. Right now, the U.S. can take one step by denying the Keystone XL oilsands pipeline. Otherwise, the U.S. is tacitly saying that it condones the ongoing mismanagement of the oil sands, and Canada's role as America's dirty gas tank.

Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Markey were instrumental in getting a climate and energy bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. While the U.S. has not yet adopted comprehensive climate legislation, Pelosi's focus on the oilsands could serve, in the interim, as a step forward in tackling many of the same issues her legislation sought to address.

Someday our own policy makers will once again show leadership on the climate and energy files. For now though, we look to others like Speaker Pelosi to help guide us to a better future.

Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence Canada

Marlo Raynolds, Executive Director, Pembina Institute

Marlo Raynolds

Marlo Raynolds was the executive director of the Pembina Institute until January 2011.


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