March 13, 2012

Canada Aligning Its Climate Change Policy with the U.S.

Take-aways from The Energy Bar Association's February Meeting
By: Jay Tufano
Cleantech Law Partners

The Energy Bar Association’s (EBA) held its Western Chapter Meeting on February 23rd and 24th in San Francisco. The EBA assembled a diverse and distinguished group of speakers representing utilities, technology providers, international partners, and public utility commissioners. Cassie Doyle, Consulate General of Canada, presented an overview Canada’s energy policy highlighting its long-standing energy and trade partnership with the United States. Although Ms. Doyle’s presentation focused on Canada, it underscored the reverberating effects of the U.S.’s failure to adopt a comprehensive renewable energy and climate change policy.

Ms. Doyle noted that because Canada is a close trading partner with the United States, Canada is harmonizing its environmental goals with U.S. climate change policy. For example, she pointed out that Canada has adopted California’s stringent vehicle emission standards. Nevertheless, given Canada’s recent withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, implicit in Ms. Doyle’s remarks is that trading partners will not unilaterally suffer a trade disadvantage due to GHG restrictions in the absence of further U.S. commitment.

The focal point of point of Ms. Doyle’s presentation was a discussion of the Alberta Tar Sands project, a project that has gained attracted controversy due to high GHG emissions and environmental degradation. Ms. Doyle raised several familiar arguments in support of the Tar Sands: secure energy source, reduction of reliance on foreign oil, strict regulatory standards, reclamation requirements, and advancing technology (solvents) that reduce GHG emissions.

She also argued that lax U.S. environmental and climate change policies render U.S. criticism of the Tar Sands misguided and hypocritical. For example, Ms. Doyle pointed out that numerous power plants within the U.S. operate without controversy or opposition despite higher GHG emissions. In contrast, the only project of similar magnitude in Canada is the Tar Sands. Second, Ms. Doyle noted that the vast majority of U.S. oil is imported by tanker often originating in regions with poor environmental standards, little enforcement, and massive pollution. She argued that if the U.S. is going to engage in upstream environmental scrutiny of the Tar Sands, it should also scrutinize the production methods of oil shipped via tanker.

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