Canada enlists Big Oil to help kill U.S green policies

Published by Postmedia News on Sun Nov 28 2010

OTTAWA – Canadian diplomats in Washington 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, Postmedia News has learned.

In a series of newly-released emails from Canada’s Washington embassy, the Canadian diplomats described recommendations from Environment Canada to clean up the oilsands as “simply nutty,” proposing instead to “kill any interpretation” of U.S. energy legislation that would apply to the 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 on Feb. 8, 2008.

The correspondence, released to the Pembina Institute, an environmental research group, that obtained it through access-to-information legislation, comes as the international community gathers in Cancun, Mexico, for the annual United Nations summit on global warming.

The new documents also follow revelations by Postmedia News last week that the Harper government had crafted a multi-department communications strategy with industry stakeholders and the Alberta government to attack foreign environmental policies and promote the oilsands.

“We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing.”

Clare Demerse, the associate director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, said the government should remember that it works for Canadians, not the oil companies.

“A responsible government would see clean energy policies outside our borders as an opportunity to do better, not as a threat,” said Demerse.

“Reading through these documents, I’m struck that no one at Foreign Affairs ever acknowledges that cutting greenhouse-gas pollution could be a good thing. Instead, the officials dismiss U.S. efforts to clean up the fuel they buy as ‘protectionism.’”

The messages from diplomats were sent as the oilsands industry was lobbying against Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which could restrict U.S. government departments and agencies from buying fuel with a high environmental footprint.

“The US government – read administration – is looking to us to provide support for their work to kill any interpretation of this section that would apply to Canadian oil sands,” wrote Tolland. “That is the purpose of this.”

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. “to point out the potential implication to their imports from Canada.”

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.

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.

“I would encourage your firm to make its views known to DOE (U.S. Department of Energy) and the Hill (politicians),” wrote Connors to Susan E. Carter from Exxon Mobil on Jan. 22, 2008. “I would be most grateful for your company’s views on the issue.”

According to Article 41 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, visiting diplomats in a receiving state “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”

In a separate email, Connors also rejected a recommendation from Helen Ryan, a senior Environment Canada official responsible for oil, gas and alternative energy, that the Canadian government needed to convey, in a letter from the ambassador, the importance of putting “more pressure” on the oilsands industry to invest in technology to clean up their pollution.

“If intended for the letter, (this point) is simply nutty,” wrote Connors on Feb. 19, 2008.

On Feb. 22, 2008, Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador at the time in Washington, sent a letter to several members of former U.S. president George W. Bush’s cabinet, urging the American government to protect the oilsands from the new energy legislation.

California Democrat Henry Waxman, who helped write the legislation, wrote a letter, one month later, stressing that the oilsands produced significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum sources, but that the law would not apply to fuels that were “generally available in the market” and contained a percentage of fuel from non-conventional sources such as the oilsands.

When asked if the tactics used by the Canadian diplomats were accepted practices, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade defended the oilsands industry and said that meetings with decision-makers, those who influence them and stakeholders on Canadian priorities are a regular aspect of Canada’s engagement abroad.

“Canada does not consider oil from oil sands to be an alternative fuel,” wrote Laura Markle in an email.

“Oil sands production is commercial and, like other oil, is processed in conventional facilities. The government will continue the promotion of a strategic resource that will contribute to energy security for Canada, North America and the world for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, the debate over the interpretation of Section 526 is still before the courts. The U.S. Sierra Club, an environmental group, launched a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, alleging that it is violating the U.S. energy legislation by procuring fuel from the oilsands. It also argues the department must immediately stop its existing fuel contracts and ensure it’s purchasing fuel with a lower footprint. Industry groups have filed a counter lawsuit in support of the Pentagon.

Environment Minister John Baird said last week the Canadian government had set an absolute target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 and was working with the Obama administration and other partners to go beyond the Copenhagen accord, an international agreement reached last year that sets no binding targets, but engaged major polluting countries such as India and China to participate.

“It’s absolutely essential that all large emitters participate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Baird in the House of Commons in response to a question from Bloc Quebecois environment critic Bernard Bigras. “We all have an interest in an agreement based on absolute reductions of greenhouse gases in the fight against global warming. Our position in Cancun will be to work with all large emitters and to negotiate an agreement that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all countries.”


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