Obama’s Top Official Pushing Tar Sands in Secret Trade Deal
Trade rep. advocates for dirty oil industry against EU’s already-insufficient regs despite Obama’s promises to cut carbon
As President Obama publicly promises to curb carbon emissions, his top trade official is pushing for tar sands industry handouts and influence in the highly secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, launching attacks on EU tar sands regulations that green groups say are already too insufficient.
“The U.S. has no business rolling back any kind of protection from the world’s dirtiest oil at a time when we’re supposed to be making progress on climate,” Eddie Scher of the Sierra Club told Common Dreams.
Questioned before the House Ways and Means Committee in late July, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman railed against a proposed change to the EU Fuel Quality Directive that requires a 6 percent reduction in gas and diesel emissions by 2020. The ammendment under question would label bitumen—oil extracted from tar sands—as a high-emissions diesel, a rating that would ‘discourage‘ but not prevent EU fuel suppliers from buying tar sands oil.
Environmental groups say that the regulation that Froman is attempting to gut is already grossly insufficient. “The regulation is not really doing anything,” Scott Parkin of Rainforest Action Network told Common Dreams. “It’s just saying tar sands should be called something different. We are saying that tar sands need to stay in the ground. Period.”
Yet, Froman charges this so-called regulation goes too far. When Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) claimed the proposed regulations are “discriminatory, environmentally unjustified and could constitute a barrier to U.S.-EU trade,” Froman stated, “I share your concerns.”
“I have raised these issues with senior Commission officials on several occasions, including in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP),” he wrote in a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee. “We continue to press the Commission to take the views of stakeholders, including U.S. refiners, under considerations as they finalize these amendments.”
Obama’s trade official is publicly advocating for the tar sands oil industry despite the president’s June speech in which he declared he would cut carbon emissions and only approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Green groups, who say the oil pipeline would increase carbon emissions by definition, are organizing a mounting campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands extraction. So far, 75,000 people have pledged to commit civil disobedience if the president approves the pipeline.
Michael Froman, Top U.S. Trade Official, Lobbies For Tar Sands Oil In EU Negotiations
Building the Keystone XL pipeline is only part of the equation. Once the Canadian tar sands are pumped and piped to refineries on the Gulf Coast, the industry still needs to find buyers for its end product — much of which will be exported.
That’s where U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman comes in.
Environmental groups in the U.S. and the European Union are worried that Froman, the chief trade official for the United States, has been quietly working to pressure the EU to make it easier for U.S. refiners to sell oil from the tar sands on the European market. They say Froman is pushing his EU counterparts to weaken environmental guidelines related to greenhouse gas emissions in order to facilitate easier oil exports.
The European Commission has set an overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. One measure aimed at meeting that goal is the Fuel Quality Directive, which requires a 6 percent reduction in emissions from transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel by 2020. A proposal currently under consideration to help achieve that goal would assign values to different types of fuel based on the emissions they generate. The proposal assigns a higher value to bitumen, a type of oil extracted from tar sands that has 12 to 40 percent higher lifecycle emissions than conventional types of crude oil.
Fuel suppliers in the EU would still get to pick what fuels they include in their portfolio, but the rating would be used to provide guidance about what goes in the mix. Based on a recent written statement, advocacy groups are concerned that Froman may be working to weaken the fuel guidelines as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal that the U.S. and the European Commission are currently discussing.
Froman testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on July 18, and recently provided a written response to follow-up questions from the hearing. The answers were posted online last week by the trade journal Inside U.S. Trade (subscription required).
In his questions for Froman, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said that he believes the Fuel Quality Directive’s guidance on tar sands oil is “discriminatory, environmentally unjustified and could constitute a barrier to U.S.-EU trade.”
“I share your concerns regarding the European Union’s development of proposals for amendments to the Fuel Quality Directive,” wrote Froman in response. In particular, Froman identified what he called a “lack of adequate transparency and public participation in the process” and said that the U.S. is seeking “improvements in the EU’s overall regulatory practices” through the TTIP process.
“We continue to press the Commission to take the views of stakeholders, including U.S. refiners, under consideration as they finalize these amendments,” Froman wrote.
Keystone XL’s Ugly Toll on America’s Endangered Species
Much of the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline has rightly been focused on the staggering damage it’ll do to our climate.
But often overlooked in the controversy is the ugly toll this pipeline will take on some of America’s most endangered species.
These are animals and plants that live right along the pipeline’s path or are directly affected by the production of tar sands oil in Canada — species like whooping cranes, northern swift foxes, woodland caribou, black-footed ferrets, pallid sturgeon, western prairie fringed orchids and a delightful little bird called Sprague’s pipit. (You can see some of them in this video.)
If Keystone’s built, they’ll be put directly in harm’s way by oil spills (the government estimates Keystone could spill 34,000 gallons of tar sands oil each year), collisions with 378 miles of new power lines, and habitat destruction to make way for this 1,700-mile pipeline.
Troublingly, the two government agencies that are supposed to be looking out for these species as they review this project — the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — have virtually ignored the fate of these animals.
This week the Center for Biological Diversity issued a new report exposing the flaws in the government’s review of Keystone’s expected impacts on endangered wildlife.
CREDIT: Global News
Tar sands oil that began leaking more than four months ago in northern Alberta is still bubbling to the earth’s surface, an environmental disaster that has prompted the Alberta government to intervene.
The government has ordered Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., the company in charge of the leaking Primrose tar sands operation, to drain two-thirds of a 131-acre lake on the property in an attempt to plug one fissure, located directly below the lake, which has been spilling tar sands oil into the lake over the four months. The order, according to CNRL, will allow the company to identify the exact location of the leak and attempt to halt it. The company’s plan to stop the other three leaks on the site is unknown, though CNRL says the seepage rate from all four leak sites has been reduced to fewer than 20 barrels a day.
The first of the four ongoing leaks at the Primrose site was reported May 20, and may well have started leaking long before that. As of September 11, the leaks have spilled more than 403,900 gallons — or about 9,617 barrels — of oily bitumen into the surrounding boreal forest and muskeg, the acidic, marshy soil found in the forest. In addition, 14,491 metric tons — 31,947,188 pounds — of “impacted soils” have been removed from the site, along with 515 cubic meters — 18,151 cubic feet — of oily vegetation. Two beavers, 49 birds, 105 amphibians and 46 small mammals have been killed as a result of the spill, according to the Alberta Energy Regulator.
CREDIT: ED KAISER/EDMONTON JOURNAL
Back in July, CNR attributed the cause of the four leaks to “mechanical failures of wellbores in the vicinity of the impacted areas,” but the Alberta Energy Regulator said in August that it was “far to early” to determine the cause of the event. CNRL said that the seepage was “now controlled to specific containment areas where it is effectively recovered as it reaches the surface” — basically, that the leaks were being monitored and the oil cleaned up, but the leaks weren’t being stopped.
CBC News Politics
Harper won’t take no for an answer on Keystone XL
By Susana Mas, CBC News Posted: Sep 26, 2013 1:09 PM ET Last Updated: Sep 26, 2013 3:18 PM ET
With the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline still in the hands of U.S. President Barack Obama five years on, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a crowd of business leaders gathered in New York that he will not take no for an answer.
Harper, who participated in a question and answer session with the Canadian American Business Council on the second day of his visit to New York Thursday afternoon, said “my view is you don’t take no for an answer.”
“We haven’t had that but if we were to get that, that won’t be final. This won’t be final until it’s approved and we will keep pushing forward,” Harper said.
The event was moderated by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo.
Asked by Bartiromo when he last spoke to Obama about the Keystone XL pipeline, Harper said he has been in touch with the U.S. president “very regularly” on the matter.
“The president has always assured me that he’ll make a decision that’s in, what he believes is, the best interest of the United States based on the facts. I think the facts are clear, ” Harper said.