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EU Vote on Canadian Tar Sands Ends in Stalemate

Decision to label Alberta's oil 'highly polluting' will take place this summer

Common Dreams staff

The Canadian ambassador to the European Union has threatened to complain to the World Trade Organization if the EU designates oilsands crude, seen in production, as more polluting than conventional oil. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

An EU vote today to determine whether imported Canadian tar sands would be categorized as a 'highly polluting fuel' ended in stalemate, giving a cautious short-term victory to green advocates, and pushing a final decision to the European Council which will now vote on the matter this summer.

The CBC reports:

Experts from the EU's 27 member countries voted 54 in favour and 128 against, but weighting by population gives some countries a bigger vote, leading to the tie Thursday. Germany, France, the U.K., and Italy all carry extra weight.

As a result, the proposal will move up to the European Council, which will vote on it in late spring or early summer.


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The EU's so-called fuel-quality directive — part of Europe's attempts to reduce CO2 emissions by encouraging the use of cleaner fuel — ranks fuels based on their carbon footprint. It calculates a fuel's entire life cycle of emissions, then assigns it a number.

Under the directive, Canadian oil derived from oilsands would get a higher number than conventional oil because it uses more energy to extract and refine.The fuel quality directive would make Alberta's main export more expensive for European customers. Canada doesn't export much oil to Europe, but could in the future.

Canada and the oil industry have lobbied against the proposal, while environmental groups have supported it.

Greenpeace's transport policy adviser in Europe Franziska Achterberg said in response to the decision: “Now that the tar sands issue is finally in the hands of publicly accountable ministers, we will see who’s pulling the strings in Europe. The evidence is clear: tar sands are the world’s dirtiest fuels. The decision is even clearer: ministers should stand up to the oil industry and ban them from Europe.”


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