Top Man in Washington Slams Canada's Tar Sands

This a piece I wrote last week on Huffington Post, don’t know why I didn’t cross-post here on DeSmog.

When former US President Bill Clinton went for an “unofficial” visit to North Korea to negotiate the release of two imprisoned American journalists he asked John Podesta to accompany him.

When current US President Barack Obama needed someone to head his transition into the role of president, it was John Podesta who he asked.

In other words, John Podesta is a very powerful man when it comes to US politics and while he does not speak on behalf of the Obama administration in an official capacity - he runs a major think tank called the Center for American Progress - his public statements on policy are something to pay attention to.

Last week in a speech to a group called Canada 2020, Podesta had this to say about that country’s massive tar sands industry:

“As we look down this road, there are a few things it’s tough not to agree on at the outset. Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive. These things are facts. I think suggesting this process can come close to approximating being “greened” is largely misleading, or far too optimistic, or perhaps both. It stands alongside clean coal and error-free deepwater drilling as more PR than reality.” [my emphasis]

This is a very strong statement from an individual who’s influence in Washington, DC cannot be overstated. In fact, much of Podesta’s speech echos recent comments made by the US president himself.

In light of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico with millions of gallons of oil pumping uncontrollably into the ocean with devastating effects to our environment and the local economies, both Obama and Podesta know that the days of promoting dirty old forms of fuel like tar sand and coal are over. They both also know that continuing down the dirty fuel path is bad politics.

The oil spill has awoken the public to the fact that the risk involved in these extreme extraction processes are not only hurting the environment today, but that of their children and grandchildren. In a speech President Obama made to 300 small business owners in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, he stated that:

“But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren.”

Look at the facts about Canada’s tar sands operations, they are: tearing a path of destruction through a virgin forest the size of England, pumping millions of tons of heat-trapping greenhouses gases into the air, and forever changing our planet’s climate, contaminating millions of gallons of fresh water and storing than in lakes of sludge that are considered some of the largest human-made construction projects in the world, to name a few.

In the long-term, Canada’s tar sands will do more harm than the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Think about it, we watch in horror the oil being dumped into the ocean as the result of an “accident”, yet we think nothing of the millions of gallons of sludge that are intentionally produced and dumped into human-made toxic lakes by the tar sands companies.

As Podesta puts it:

“As we look down this road, there are a few things it’s tough not to agree on at the outset. Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive. These things are facts.”

So what is to be done?

The answer is obviously complex, but pretty simple to describe: dirty fuels like tar sands and coal are only cheap to produce because governments make them cheap by not charging companies for dumping into our air and water.

Like a restaurant pays to dump their garbage at the end at the night in the bin out back, tar sands companies should rightly pay a fee for the garbage they dump into our air and water.

Only then can we compare the true costs of these dirty fuels to other forms of energy from unlimited clean sources, like wind and solar.

No doubt the unlimited clean sources will win out because they will not be burdened with paying the pollution fees the dirty fuel companies will be stuck with. But don’t listen to me, listen to Obama’s top guy, John Podesta:

“… even economists and national security experts agree, the benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels towards clean, sustainable sources of energy go far beyond climate change mitigation. We have an opportunity to create millions of new jobs worldwide, deploy new sources of energy that are clean and domestically produced, and free ourselves from chasing resources that distort foreign policy priorities and drain investment away from challenges like global poverty and disease.”

Sounds like a winner to me. And with such strong words from the likes of John Podesta and President Obama it also sounds like an inevitability.


So Podesta is against deep-water drilling and the tar sands. I imagine he is against oil delivered by tankers from the Middle East too.

Which leaves us with next to nothing to supply our energy needs.

Paul, how long have you been visiting this site?

Not ruled out are nuclear, hydroelectric (including man made), and geothermal. That is before you consider the “new” technologies of wind and solar.

Maybe you should start re-thinking those “needs.” Have you actually tried to conceptualize what the Gulf leak is spewing? Go here: and then consider that the estimate has more than TRIPLED since this video was made. Have you looked at the amount of water it takes to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands, and what is left of that water when it’s been sucked through the system? A whole lot of ducks got killed just landing in it.

What are your energy “NEEDs”, Paul? I’m not talking about what you think you want, based on a rampant consumer-driven concept of progress and growth. I am talking about what endures. Are you willing to sacrifice your children’s future so that you can drive a fast car or air condition your life? What is it that you are trying so hard to sustain that you can’t even contemplate life without it? What are you afraid of?

I am a single mother with a wonderful son, aged 21. My goal in life is to give him a better world than the one I grew up in. It isn’t actually working out that way, no matter what I have done. So I have to work harder. I urge you to take a long, hard look at the state of things. You aren’t stupid, that much is clear. But you are locked into the notion of “progress”. Paul, “progress” is a construct, invented for economical reasons to justify the pursuit of Empire. I’m no anarchist, and I have no interest in “bringing down the system”. But I also believe that economical “Progress” is the Devil’s own creed.

That’s about as much as I can think this evening. Paul S, you & I have been here at DeSmogBlog for a long time. Keep questioning, but don’t blind yourself to the facts. Femack