Emma Pullman

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Emma is a freelance researcher and journalist. You can find her writing in the Toronto Star, Huffington Post, Canada.com, Vancouver Observer and Rabble.

Alberta and Canadian Governments Complicit in Killing Climate Policy in EU & U.S. to Support Toxic Tar Sands

The Alberta government’s multi-million dollar public relations campaign to spin dirty tar sands production in a positive light has received quite a bit of flack from those who see through efforts to tout the tar sands as green, or as a “national treasure”

They haven’t just been investing in $56,000 advertisements and op-ed pieces. The governments of Canada and Alberta are also engaged in something much more insidious: a concerted effort to weaken climate policies in other countries, with the aim of ensuring that no impediments exist to Canada’s filthy tar sands. 

The shocking report released by Climate Action Network Canada shows that the Alberta and Canadian governments have been complicit with industry in efforts to undermine climate legislation in the EU and U.S.  The report highlights three devious efforts by industry and government to oppose or weaken energy policy abroad: California’s low-carbon fuel standard, which encourages cleaner fuels and discourages burning dirty fuels; Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which stops departments from buying the dirtiest kinds of fuels and the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, an effort to lower CO2 emissions and move toward cleaner-burning fuels.

Government and industry are behind “a concerted effort to weaken climate policies outside our borders, with the aim of ensuring that no doors are closed to Canada’s highly polluting tar sands,” the report’s authors write. This is the heart of corporate-government complicity, with the secret oilsands advocacy strategy being led by the Foreign Affairs Department, with officials working in both the U.S. and the European Union.  The report’s authors fear that these examples appear to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Gore Admits Corn Ethanol Support Was A Mistake

At a green business conference on Monday, Al Gore admitted that his support for corn ethanol subsidies was a mistake. This news comes weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline.  Total ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Agency. In fact, biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy.

Gore argued that “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for [U.S.] first-generation ethanol”.  Giving extraordinary subsidies to first generation feedstocks was a mistake, he says.  “The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”

Toxic Tar Sands Coming to a Community Near You: Profiles From The Front Lines

Many Americans who have never heard of the Alberta tar sands soon will. The tar sands is one of the largest, dirtiest, and most destructive projects on Earth, and is likely coming to a community near you.  The oil industry is expanding facilities to process toxic tar sands oil in the U.S. through a network of refineries and pipelines.  With plans to triple refining and transportation of tar sands by 2015, there is no question that air pollution and health problems in communities from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast will increase.

Public health in several U.S. states is already under threat from dramatic increases in refining pollution, and massive pipelines are planned to cross the United States’ largest freshwater aquifer, which supplies one-third of U.S. agriculture.

Tar sands crude contains heavy metals, and refining tar sands releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons linked to pre-natal brain damage, and smog and ozone-depleting chemicals and compounds.  Exposure to these toxics is linked to asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases.  That says nothing of the devastating impacts on air, water, and soil.

With the environmental and health impacts of the tar sands well known, but no sign of an end to the environmental trauma, the Sierra Club’s latest report shows the personal side of the impacts of dirty oil in North American communities. Americans and Canadians are worried about Alberta’s tar sands expansion poisoning their water, destroying their farmland, and contaminating their air. 

Canadian Conservative Senators Use their Clout to Kill Climate Bill Passed by House of Commons

A snap vote in Canada’s unelected, and primarily Tory Senate on Tuesday night saw the demise of the NDP’s Climate Change Accountability Act by a narrow margin of 43-32.  The vote caught Liberals in the Upper House off guard, and the climate change legislation was no match for Stephen Harper’s conservative-stacked Senate. Without any debate in the Red Chamber, Conservative Senators called a vote on Bill C-311 introduced by Thunder Bay-Superior NDP Bruce Hyer. Canada’s hope for meaningful environmental legislation ahead of the UN Cancun climate talks later this month was killed by eleven votes.
 
The bill has spent the last year bouncing between the House of Commons and its environmental committee.  It would have called for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. It also set a long-term goal to bring emissions down 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  That’s a lot more stringent than what the Harper government is calling for now—namely a 17 percent emissions cut from 2005 levels by 2020.
 
This marks the first time that unelected Conservative Senators have used their near-majority to kill a bill passed by elected politicians. The absence of over 15 Liberals from the Senate allowed the bill to fail narrowly in a vote.
 
According to NDP leader Jack Layton, “This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada…To take power that doesn’t rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country”. 

Policy Experts Propose Expansion to Montreal Protocol to Fight Global Warming

The widespread use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) throughout a fifty-year stretch in the middle of the 20th century was one of the biggest environmental mistakes ever. As we came to learn the hard way, CFCs wreak environmental havoc by weakening the ozone layer, and some can persist in the atmosphere for over a century, making their legacy a long-lived mistake too. 

The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was instrumental in phasing out CFC use, and is considered one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements ever.  The Protocol has phased out nearly 97% of 100 ozone-depleting chemicals, many of which contribute to global warming. The Protocol also prevented over 200 billion metric tonnes of global warming gases from entering the atmosphere – an astonishing five years’ worth of total global emissions. Nothing to sneeze at. The Montreal Protocol’s pollution reduction targets are mandatory, universally accepted and readily measurable.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientists recently confirmed that the Montreal Protocol was a highly-successful solution - the ozone layer has recovered from CFC-induced damage, and the Protocol “provided substantial co-benefits by reducing climate change.”

With energy legislation shelved in the U.S. and little hope for a global climate change agreement this year, some policy experts are arguing that, rather than reinventing the wheel, perhaps a solution is right in front of us. 

75 Groups from Canada, US and Europe Call for End to Toxic Tar Sands Tailings

Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

75 groups from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe have signed a petition calling on the federal and Alberta governments to immediately phase out existing tailings lakes and deny any proposed project that would create new tailings lakes. Greenpeace issued the call-out last week, and 45 groups across Canada, including 23 Alberta-based groups, six U.S. groups, and one group from Europe have signed on to support a moratorium on destructive tar sands practices.  To date, there have been over 600 signatories to the petition.  

Greenpeace’s petition comes as European members of Parliament (MEPs) wrapped up their tour of the Alberta tar sands late last week.  European members of Parliament were visiting to weigh in on the controversial dirty crude and were to report back on their findings regarding fuel legislation that could inhibit or impact the use of tar sands products. At stake is possible legislation and restriction on the importation of the dirty crude, or the labeling of it as “dirty” or “high carbon”.

Largest Donor to Prop 23 Valero Has Ties to the Tar Sands Too

As Americans head to the polls today, many are aware of the Big Oil and special interest bankrolling of efforts like California’s Prop 23 which would help derail progress toward the clean energy future.  Aside from Kochtopus and Tesoro funding, the biggest funder of Prop 23 is Valero, a Texas oil company keen to avoid the domino effect of clean energy legislation.  They have already contributed more than $5 million to support it, and it’s no wonder: They fear that climate legislation will hurt profits at their two California refineries.

The Tyee reports that Valero has ties to the tar sands in Alberta where California laws may one day lead to limits on Valero’s prospects for future growth - which depend a great deal on Alberta’s tar sands.  

Why would a Texas oil company care about California clean energy laws?  The Texas oil company owns several Alberta area refineries.  Bill Day, a Valero spokesperson, calls Canada “a tremendous potential supplier for us.”

They’re eyeing up the tar sands because over the coming decades, the proposed Alberta-Texas pipeline would ship massive amounts of Albertan fossil fuels to Gulf Coast refineries.   The highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline stretched from Alberta could eventually ship up to 600,000 barrels of oil per day to Texas and Louisiana.  As they noted in their most recent annual report, “This large new source of crude oil for the Gulf Coast market will further diversify our feedstock slate and increase our ability to optimize our profitability”.

The Clergy of Climate Change Denial: Art Pope and the North Carolina Denial Machine

With the U.S. midterm elections days away, there is no shortage of last-minute efforts and big advertising dollars being spent on the campaign trail.  Prominent among those ‘campaigning’ are Big Oil and corporate interests, who are spending with reckless abandon after the recent Citizens United decision enabled unlimited spending to influence election results.  As the Center for American Progress Action Fund reported, nearly $70 million of that funding was directed towards efforts to halt clean energy legislation. 

Among the various polluting industries doling out big bucks is Big Oil who is bankrolling major efforts, along with their dubious sounding front groups, including Kochtopus funded groups. But the Kochs aren’t the only ones attacking prevailing climate science through shady front groups.  

According to an excellent investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies, there’s a denier in town that is giving the Kochs a run for their money.  Art Pope has finessed the art of bankrolling climate change denial in North Carolina.  Facing South’s research demonstrates that Pope has close ties to the Kochs as one of four national directors of the Koch-founded political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.  He is also the second-largest institutional funder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Pope is a director and board chair of the William Pope Foundation, which has steered millions to conservative thinks tanks in North Carolina and nationally, a network working closely with the Kochtopus to manufacture doubt about global warming.

Financial Post Op-Ed Spins Familiar Tale of Climate Change Denial

The recent op-ed piece in Canada’s Financial Post by Czech President Václav Klaus is more than a little infuriating.  Klaus, an economist by trade with no background in climate science, has become a favourite skeptic for hire at the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing libertarian think tanks. 

Klaus is a vocal skeptic on the topic of global warming. His 2007 book argues that global warming is akin to a new religion or ideology that threatens to undermine freedom and the world’s economic and social order.  At a 2007 speech at the Cato Institute, he argued that, “Environmentalism should belong in the social sciences” along with other “isms” such as communism, feminism, and liberalism.  He went on to argue that, “environmentalism is a religion” and a “modern counterpart of communism” that seeks to change people’s habits and economic systems.

At his 2009 keynote address at the International Conference of Climate Change (a.k.a. Denial-a-Palooza), he maintained that environmental activists don’t necessarily care about temperature, or carbon dioxide, rather they care about rent seeking and political profit.  In an increasingly familiar trope, he argued that the climate change movement has become popularized because it gives politicians an excuse to exert more control over society.

Klaus delivered a keynote speech at last week’s Global Warming Policy Foundation Inaugural Annual Lecture in London.  According to his address, “Global warming in the last 150 years was modest and future warming and its consequences will not be dangerous or catastrophic.  It doesn’t look like a threat we should respond to,” he said.

Money Talks: Big Oil & Special Interests Bankroll Anti-Clean Energy Efforts on the Campaign Trail

With a week to go before the U.S. midterm elections, the Center for American Progress Action Fund has released a great interactive map that shows who’s been bankrolling efforts to halt clean energy efforts and back the anti-clean energy reform agenda.  After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision permitted corporations to spend unlimited money influencing elections, the election terrain has become a dizzying display of corporate muscle and dollars.  Perhaps most dizzying is how easy it is for Big Oil and special interests to hide behind benevolent-sounding front groups, and how difficult it now is for us to know whose interests are shaping the elections.

In this midterm election, Democratic-aligned groups have been outspent by an astounding 7 to 1 margin, and Republican-aligned groups have flooded the nation’s airwaves with a flurry of ads.  According to CorpWatch, they have spent over $300 million, five times as much as they did in 2006.

CAP’s stats come from a Repower America report that shows the companies and organizations spreading misinformation about clean energy and climate change.  13 organizations have injected $68.5 million in 2010 alone into fictitious TV ads designed to spin clean energy legislation.  Since August alone, they’ve pumped over $17 million into their efforts. 

CAP’s report offers a state-by-state breakdown of the top donors, and follows the money to the source. And it’s not pretty.  The stakes for a clean energy future are high as oil and coal groups spend more and more helping climate-denying candidates run in tight races.

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