Before dawn yesterday morning, a small team of climate activists rappelled from the US observation deck at Niagara Falls. Dangling hundreds of feet above the ground, they sent a special welcome message to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of his first official visit to the White House to push dirty Tar Sands oil. See photos here.
Not that he's feeling so welcome anyway. Obama limited the meeting to just one hour. While some have called it a slap in the face, aides say Harper will turn the other cheek. "The economy, and the clean-energy dialogue," one aide told the Globe and Mail, "will dominate the discussions." Obama needed to dodge controversy over oil imports from Canada's tar sands in the midst of the Climate Legislation debate. Harper needed a story to go with his photo-op.
During Harper's first official trip to meet Obama in the U.S., the two leaders are expected to discuss climate change and energy policy ahead of the upcoming G20 Summit. Canada supplies 19% of U.S. oil imports, more than half of which now come from the tar sands, making the region the largest single source of U.S. oil imports. The expansion of the tar sands will strip mine an area the size of Florida. Complete with skyrocketing rates of cancer (by 400%!) for First Nations communities living downstream, broken treaties, toxic belching lakes so large you can see them from outer space, churning up ancient boreal forest, destroyed air and water quality, the tar sands have been called the most destructive project on Earth.
Today's visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Harper is the latest attempt by Canadian Federal and Provincial officials to lock in subsidies for 22 new and expanded refinery projects and oil pipelines crisscrossing 28 states, which would transport and process the dirty tar sands oil. Many are concerned that Prime Minister Harper wants to protect the tar sands oil industry from climate regulation, even though it is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
"Climate change, one of the biggest security threats of our time, is something Canada and the United States face together. Extracting tar sands oil, which sends three times more climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than conventional oil, puts us all at risk," said Eriel Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Rainforest Action Network's Tar Sands Campaigner in Alberta.
As this oil spills into the U.S., communities living near oil refineries face increased air and water pollution, which contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel and five times more lead than conventional oil.
Opposition to tar sands oil has been rising on both sides of the border. Just last month, four Native American and environmental groups sued Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary James Steinberg and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over Enbridge Energy's Alberta Clipper pipeline. If built, the 1,375 mile pipeline would pump 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Northern Alberta to Midwestern refineries. In Canada, Native activists escalated pressure on the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) for their funding of the tar sands a few weeks ago.
Canada has no regulations to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and the federal government's climate change plan would allow total pollution from the tar sands to increase almost 70 percent by 2020. Tar sands oil production is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and was recently cited as one of the most important reasons Canada will miss its Kyoto targets by over 30%.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) used to be the centerpiece of Harper's pitch. Global warming pollution from coal and tar sands "can be solved by technology," declared Obama. Not to be outdone, Harper's office announced that "a strengthened U.S.-Canada partnership on carbon sequestration will help accelerate private sector investment in commercial scale, near-zero-carbon coal facilities to promote climate and energy security."
Half a year and billions of wasted tax dollars later, though, CCS is still a pipe dream. FutureGen, North America's supposed proving ground for the unproven technology, can't keep private investors to save its life. Two of its biggest private backers, Southern Co. and AEP, jumped ship last June. Around the same time, sponsors lowered the goal-post on the project to just 60% less carbon. So much for near-zero-carbon facility. Projects promised in the tar sands are fairing even worse.
No matter. Harper is back, hat in hand, looking for legislative handouts to an industry destined to ruin the climate.
So here's our welcome to you, Prime Minister Harper. Now, please, go home.
And take your dirty tar sands with you.