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Open Letter to Barack Obama: Reject the Keystone Pipeline

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President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States of America

Dear President Obama,

We learned late Friday that Prime Minister Harper has written to you with an offer of reducing Tar Sands emissions in exchange for your approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Please know that the majority of Canadians support strong action on greenhouse gas emissions and want to prevent runaway climate change. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister represents the interests of multi-national oil companies, not Canadians.

In 2005, Canada had a solid (albeit, not perfect) climate change plan designed to meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Regulations were written and ready to go into effect on January 1, 2008. The plan was the result seven years of consultation with the provinces, industry, experts and environmental organizations, and included a cap on all industrial emissions (including oil and gas). As Executive Director of the Climate Action Network at the time, I was closely involved and can attest to the diligent efforts by all involved to ensure Canada could both reduce emissions and economically prosper. It's worth noting that one of the concessions we made in the development of the plan allowed for some expansion of the Tar Sands (we were sincerely trying to work with government and industry proponents).

When Mr. Harper came to power in 2006, despite being in a minority position (two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties that supported compliance with the Kyoto Protocol), he immediately began cancelling Federal climate change initiatives (even a very popular home energy efficiency program). Since then we've seen a communications plan rather than a climate change plan from his government. It's been a continuous parade of schemes and announcements -- a fog machine -- to mask their real intent: delay and inaction.

Currently, there are no greenhouse gas regulations at all on the oil and gas industry (although they have been promised many times). Last year regulations for coal fired power plants were announced with much ballyhoo by the Mr. Harper's government. It was agreed by all (media included) to be a bad joke -- the new regulations wouldn't come into effect for 45 years. The coal shell game announcement came on the heels of Mr. Harper's decision to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Protocol (it was the only time in history that a Canadian government willfully failed to comply with an international treaty). It was a shameful day that many Canadians will never forget.

War on the Environment

In 2012, Mr. Harper unleashed an assault on environmental groups and charities, and on Canadian civil liberties. In McCarthyesque fashion his oil minister, Joe Oliver, issued an open letter calling Canadians concerned about the Tar Sands and fossil fuel emissions "radicals" who were doing the bidding of "foreign interests" (and a whole bunch of other crazy things).

At the time I didn't know what it all meant but it sure sounded bad. It soon turned out this tirade was just a "softening-up" of the public for Mr. Harper's pending assault on democracy: he was about to gut 40 years of environmental legislation. Buried in a budget bill of several hundred pages was a complete replacement of Canada's Environmental Assessment Act, and major amendments to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act. These are the three key federal laws that ensure environmental oversight. Canadians saw environmental protection lifted on tens of thousands of beloved lakes and rivers overnight.

Under the new law, Canadian citizens must now demonstrate a "direct interest" in a project in order to merely submit a comment. As a result, Sierra Club Canada was recently denied intervener standing in the hearings to consider the ill-advised scheme to reverse the flow of aging “Line 9” in Ontario. This dangerous project has the Kalamazoo and Arkansas bitumen spill written all over it. The number of federal assessments dropped from 4000 to a few hundred as result of the changes. The justification for these changes was, of course, "red tape & costly delays." It was all a lie. Subsequent research on the time taken for environmental assessments in Canada showed there were no such "red tape" delays. In fact, it turns out the only delays were brought on by industry itself through inaction and failure to disclose documents.

For good measure, Mr. Harper then gagged federal scientists.

Canadians want to reduce GHG emissions

Canadians are eager and willing to work with the United States to develop a North American strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but our Prime Minister is not.

We strongly agree with the U.S. State Department's conclusion that the United States does not require the Keystone XL Pipeline to meet its energy demands. We also agree (as you've pointed out) Keystone is not about job creation either -- just another lie. Any economist not married to Big Oil will point out that Keystone is a bad idea based on worse economics.

Please make a historic decision and reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This single act won't stop climate change but, as Mr. Churchill, said: "this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Unfortunately, the record shows our Prime Minister's promises cannot be relied upon and we ask that you consider this in your deliberations.

In closing Mr. President, I urge you to not accept insincere offers from Mr. Harper. His actions have demonstrated his real position on climate change. I don't believe for a moment that he is serious about acting on climate change and neither should you.


John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7

P.S. -- Thanks for standing up to the "climate deniers" and inspiring Canadians and people around the world with your June 25, 2013, speech on climate change. I believe it'll turn out to be one of the most important speeches in history in defence of our fragile planet.

Photo: wikipedia commons

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