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It's been a bad political week for the tar sands. Publicly, the Tories are still clinging to the cupid face they pulled on when U.S. President Barack Obama touched down in Ottawa this winter, but they've just pulled out the big, fat arrows and are aiming low.

As U.S. climate initiatives rev into real action, it shamefully ain't our love that we Canucks are sending stateside.

On Tuesday, May 19, Obama announced historic new rules for reducing auto emissions that will meet the stringent standard set by California's low-carbon fuel regulations. The nationwide standard will take effect in 2012 and is expected to produce a 40 per cent cleaner and more fuel-efficient car and truck fleet in the U.S., averaging 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

In the past, it was Big Auto that kept fuel standards off the government firing line, but billions in taxpayer support are forcing execs to make nice and say thank you. They did and they should.

Obama's timing was designed to give carmakers a fixed fuel target around which to build their restructuring plans. (It's also déjà vu for those who watched the banks that received bailouts be the lone supporters of the government-favoured shareholder say-on-pay motions.)

Hold on. Even more climate behaviour change is on the way. Sweeping clean energy legislation could hit the U.S. Congress as early as tomorrow (Friday, May 22), and the bill will include carbon pricing through cap and trade and a host of impressive new carbon-reduction initiatives involving efficiency, alternative energy, smart grid technology and much more.

In addition, the bill is expected to affirm California's low-carbon fuel standard, a historic first adopted by the state just four short weeks ago (April 23). Already superseded by Obama's latest, these regs are the culmination of Arnold Schwarzenegger's greenhouse gas reduction effort, begun years ago but blocked by the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency.

Happily, that era is over. But sadly, climate irony isn't. It has just moved north to Canada.

The California-initiated low-carbon fuel standard is path-breaking because it tallies the greenhouse gas rating of types of fuel by looking at the entire "well to wheels" story of each source as it moves from production through transportation all the way to consumption. By this standard, the tar sands are a bust. Extracting oil from the tar sands produces a contested minimum of 30 per cent more emissions than conventional oil.

Our Minister of Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt, was on the Cali case the day it passed, firing off a disturbing letter to Schwarzenegger. "We believe crude oil from Canada's oil sands may be discriminated against as a high carbon intensity (CI) crude oil." Another déjà vu: she questions the science and threatens that the legislation could be perceived as an unfair trade barrier.

But this is just a pale shade of the overwrought narrative the Tories are constructing to rationalize their head-in-the-tar-sands approach to climate change.

Jim Prentice carried more of our crude baggage to Washington just last week, and slathered it liberally over the new clean energy legislation coming down the pipeline. The final bill is expected to require international jurisdictions that don't have acceptable greenhouse gas emission standards to purchase allowances for the higher carbon emission content of their mainly manufactured goods in various sectors.

Were Canada interested in seriously pursuing its own climate control path, this measure would pose no problem, even for our export-driven economy. But no.

"We intend to go forward reminding parties that measures to combat climate change should not constitute a means of arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination or in any way a disguised restriction on international trade," Prentice rants.

"Trade protectionism in the name of environmental protection would be a prescription for disaster for both the global economy and the global environment."

Here we are, at the most exciting time for real change we have seen in generations. Canada's offering is all about trade threats and obstruction. Prentice won't even fully commit to the newly announced U.S fuel efficiency targets despite the obvious business benefits of harmonized standards for the auto biz.

Since the Tories have no real plan to reduce absolute emissions in this country, the pace of change south of the border has forced Prentice into increasing the speech intensity targets coming out of both sides of his mouth instead.

Here's how Prentice closed his Washington address.

"The science tells us that the pace at which carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere and the impact it is having on temperature increases make this a priority for every single person at the table and every single person in this room. And for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, failure is not an option."

How true.

Climate schizophrenia has replaced climate denial in the Tory lexicon. Now that there is no longer any business case against environmental regulation, invoking protectionism and trade rules is the only mantra the Conservatives have left. Who's going to be fooled by that crap?

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