Trudeau Government Backs Energy East, Supports Tar Sands Expansion

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Trudeau Government Backs Energy East, Supports Tar Sands Expansion

Last week, climate activists welcomed incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to office with a clear message: Freeze tar sands expansion and commit to a clean energy transition. (Photo: Ben Powless/Survival Media Agency/

On the same day that US President Barack Obama rejected the proposed 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL pipeline, highlighting that approving the pipeline would undermine efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came out in support of the larger 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline.

Friday began with Obama's comment that Trudeau was "disappointed" in his decision to formally reject Keystone XL.

And then despite the scientific reality that 85 percent of the tar sands must stay in the ground to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion came out in support of the Energy East pipeline, a further expansion of the tar sands, and said that more rigorous environmental reviews will help facilitate the construction of pipelines and the export of Canadian oil.

The Globe and Mail reports, "Mr. Dion said Ottawa must put in place sufficiently rigorous environmental assessment, and deploy enough clean-energy production, to dispel any impression that the Canadian oil sector is a pariah to be avoided. 'And then our product and goods will be welcome everywhere', he said. ...The Liberals under Mr. Trudeau have supported TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone project, which offered Canadian oil producers a bigger conduit to ship their product to the U.S. market, but Mr. Dion said they also back another TransCanada crude export proposal: the Energy East pipeline."

The newspaper adds, "There has been confusion over the Liberal policy on Energy East, which would ship oil for export to a New Brunswick port terminal, but Mr. Dion said the government is willing to get behind the project. 'We support this … but we want that to be done properly and it will be difficult to do if we don’t strengthen the process itself, the process of consultation with communities and the process of scientific environmental assessment.'"

Reuters also reported, "Canadian foreign minister Dion: disagrees with those environmentalists who oppose any expansion of oil sands; 'We want sustainable development.'" Dion stated, "We didn’t say we will close the shop and then we will not have any pollution. We believe in development but it must be sustainable, including for the oil sands. It’s a challenge but we’ll do it with the industry, with the province of Alberta, we’ll do it altogether, we have no choice."

Dion's support for Energy East is significant particularly given he chairs the powerful Environment, Climate Change and Energy cabinet committee.This cabinet committee, "considers issues concerning sustainable development, the stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, environment, energy, water and Canada’s contribution to addressing climate change."

The Globe and Mail's chief political writer Campbell Clark comments, "Eventually, however, the new Prime Minister will face a domestic version of Keystone’s cross-border saga focused on the Energy East pipeline.... And since Mr. Trudeau has more or less said it is his duty to get Alberta oil to tidewater, that increases pressure on him. The route to the Gulf of Mexico is officially out. Mr. Trudeau opposed Northern Gateway, the main route to the Pacific. That leaves only the route to the Atlantic, the proposed Energy East pipeline. And the Keystone-like battles over that project are really just starting."

And Clark highlights, "[Keystone's] proposed route across the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska was one spark for local concerns; Energy East would cross several waterways, raising local qualms. Several First Nations oppose it. An Ontario report said the risks outweigh the benefits for the province. And the developer of both pipelines, Trans-Canada Corp., just abandoned plans to build a marine export terminal at Cacouna, Que., prompting Premier Philippe Couillard to suggest it makes the pipeline’s approval less likely." He suggests that Trudeau's task now is to strengthen the environmental review process sufficiently to "reassure opponents and increase acceptance of pipelines", while at the same time ensuring that "some pipeline-to-tidewater project will one day get through it."

Clark concludes, "The new Prime Minister can turn the page on Keystone, and use it to back his climate policies and a fresh start with Mr. Obama. But now Mr. Trudeau will bear the responsibility as the centre of high-profile pipeline politics moves from Washington to Ottawa."

The Council of Canadians was committed to stopping the Keystone XL pipeline (which would have produced 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year) and we are equally committed, if not more so, to stopping the Energy East pipeline (which would produce 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year).

The Council of Canadians has called for a freeze on new tar sands extraction projects (no new approvals); the rejection of new infrastructure (pipelines, marine and railway terminals) that would lock us into increased extraction for decades to come; a new Sustainability Assessment Act that would ensure all proposed projects are assessed on the basis of their individual and cumulative impacts, their upstream and downstream climate pollution, and whether or not the project has First Nation consent; and the achievable goal of a 100 clean economy by 2050.

The Council of Canadians will be at the Climate Welcome gathering to remind the Prime Minister about the impacts pipelines and climate change have on waterways across this country.

For more on our campaign to stop Energy East, please click here.

Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is the Political Director at the Council of Canadians. He works with the Council's chairperson Maude Barlow, its campaigners, organizers and chapters across the country on trade, energy, water, and health care issues. The Council has political staff in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, Delhi, Durban and Mexico City.

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