STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Alta. must clean up or face rocky future

Posted by mhudema on April 8, 2008

Monday, April 07, 2008

We’ve been given a reprieve, for now.

For months, there has been worried speculation in Alberta that a new U.S. law could seriously affect the export of oilsands-derived fuels.

Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence Act of 2007 could be seen to ban all federal government agencies from purchasing fuel produced from non-conventional petroleum sources, including the oilsands.

While the law extends “only” to U.S. government buyers, that takes in a wide swath. By itself, the Defence Department is the world’s largest-single purchaser of refined petroleum.

In fact, the controversial section of the act was apparently crafted expressly to target U.S. Air Force plans to build its own carbon-intensive coal-to-liquid plants, also now banned.

The spectre of the new legislation sent up flags throughout Canada.

Premier Ed Stelmach publicly criticized it on a recent trip to Washington, gently but firmly announcing that we would find other customers if our petroleum products weren’t wanted by our neighbours. Last month, Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson wrote to senior American officials asking for an oilsands exemption.

A letter sent to a U.S. Senate committee chairman by powerful Democratic California congressman Henry Waxman, who helped write the law, has apparently clarified the matte.

Waxman doesn’t back down much in his recent missive.

“The oilsands produce significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum sources. It is important that the federal government does not subsidize or otherwise support the expansion of those fuels.”

While that comment might well give current and prospective oilsands producers (many of them U.S.-owned) a start, there is also a caveat of sorts. Since it’s virtually impossible to determine whether synthetic crude is mixed with conventional crude at the pump, officials will parse the regulations at this point to allow “fuels generally in the market.””

But mistaking that opening for Congressional acceptance of the status quo would be a huge mistake.

Waxman has also recently contacted Defence Secretary Robert Gates in a pointed communique asking how and when the military will comply with the new legislation.

Future expansion of the oilsands is specifically discouraged in the law, along with a prohibition on government contracts promoting the use of Alberta bitumen.

In the end, the degree of hypocrisy revealed and the unintended consequences Washington legislators might unearth with blanket prohibitions might not really matter.

Politics is politics.

Even presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain is making the environment a campaign priority. While we don’t know how much this gathering storm is being propelled by hot air, we would do well in Alberta to take the threats seriously.

Acting convincingly on cleaning up our act along with seriously seeking out alternative markets has never seemed more pressing.

© The Windsor Star 2008
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