STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Prime Minister Harper should take a tar-sands tip from Premier Campbell

Posted by mhudema on February 26, 2008

Susan Riley
The Ottawa Citizen
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is becoming increasingly isolated on the critical issue of climate change, splashing around in a toxic backwater with charisma-challenged Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. By following the lead of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell instead, he could ride the issue to his much-coveted majority.

That doesn’t mean embracing a carbon tax, as Campbell did last week, although any such move by Harper would leave his Liberal rivals sputtering in impotent rage, which must make the prospect tempting.

What he could do, instead, is make his long-awaited limits on industrial, greenhouse- gas emissions much tougher than expected. This seems unlikely: Tory policy so far has been to save the “hard” caps on pollution until after every last drop of dirty, energy-intensive crude (and profit) has been squeezed from the Alberta tar sands.

But if Harper continues his desultory, defensive, “intensity-based” approach to climate change, it will hurt not only the environment but his own political prospects.

By contrast, it is hard to see a political downside to tough action on the tar sands and every other industrial emitter.

The oil patch itself has been pleading, with increasing urgency, for direction from government. It knows regulation is coming; it claims it needs firm targets before it can invest billions in mitigation technologies like carbon capture and storage. It is trying to get in front of public opinion, painting itself as part of the solution.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers greeted a recent report from the lobby group Environmental Defence, which called the tar sands “the most destructive project” on Earth, with mild disagreement, rather than spittle-flecked denunciations.

If Harper can’t bring himself to act decisively, he may be forced to do so by outside forces.

The tar sands are increasingly the target of an international campaign by environmentalists, concerned not only with greenhouse emissions from the energy-intensive operation, or with its enormous demands on the freshwater supply, but with the wanton destruction of the environment around Fort McMurray.

But the real threat comes from the U.S., the intended customer for 75 per cent of tar-sands oil. California is devising a low-carbon fuel standard, with a view to shunning “dirty,” or hard-to-extract, oil. There is also a move afoot in Washington to require federal agencies to use “clean” oil.

Whether these threats come to pass, they have Stelmach worried. The threats should worry Harper, too.

Despite his stubborn temper, the PM is capable of turning on a dime when it is to his strategic advantage, on Quebec, Afghanistan and income trusts.

He may find that, like Campbell, he would be applauded for getting ahead of the curve on climate change — and leaving his dinosaur pals to wallow in the mud.

© The Vancouver Province 2008
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