Anti-Keystone XL group takes first shot at its new target: Energy East


The big U.S. green group that led the assault against Keystone XL is firing its opening salvo Tuesday against Energy East, joining an already-crowded field of opponents and proving Alberta’s and Canada’s climate change plans are failing to moderate anti-pipeline campaigns.

The New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is holding a telephone press conference to talk about a report it prepared “documenting TransCanada’s plan and discuss the potential harm if it goes forward to communities (including those that depend on fishing), iconic species (among them whales), special places and the climate.”

In a news advisory, the NRDC paints Energy East as even worse than KXL. Both pipelines are proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp.

“TransCanada, the company that pushed the risky Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is back with an even more dangerous plan to build a new pipeline across eastern Canada and ship tar sands oil by hundreds of tankers along the U.S. East Coast to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico,” the group said.

Supported by legions of lawyers and with close ties with the White House, the NRDC also said it is starting a petition calling on President Barack Obama “to ban tar sands tankers” associated with Energy East.

Its website features a fundraising campaign with a photo of celebrity and anti-oilsands activist Robert Redford with his arms crossed, the headline: Let’s Ban Tar Sands Tankers, and the quote: “Let’s slam the door on toxic tar sands crude.”

The campaign provides a form letter to Obama saying: “I am alarmed that the oil industry plans to ship 1.5 million barrels per day of tar sands crude from Canada to the United States by pipeline and tanker — flooding America with twice as much tar sands crude as the Keystone XL pipeline would have, choking our atmosphere with 350 million metric tons of carbon pollution and threatening virtually all of our coastlines and three major rivers with nearly impossible-to-clean-up oil spills. I urge you to direct your Coast Guard and EPA to impose an immediate ban on all tar sands tanker and barge traffic in U.S. waters.”

The letter urges President Obama to “act now” rather than leave the ban to the next administration to “secure your legacy by blocking this tar sands onslaught.”

The call for a tanker ban is a new focus for the NRDC, which in its campaign against KXL played up the climate change impacts of oilsands production. It’s on that basis that Obama rejected KXL last November.

But with climate change policy under its belt, it’s obvious the group needed to conquer and make money off a new dragon. The tanker ban is a bit surprising given that oilsands tankers would be leaving from a Canadian port, making it harder to block by the U.S. administration, that tankers laden with imported oil from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and other regions have been sailing to the same port for decades, and that the point of Energy East is to sell Canadian oil to global markets and reduce dependence on the U.S.

Canadians facing hefty new carbon taxes to show “Canada is back” as a climate change policy leader — as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it in Paris — are right to wonder why the anti-pipeline crowd is changing the goal posts.

Trudeau made a heavy bet on carbon policy as the pathway to pipeline approvals. And so did Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier.

Both have gone out of their way to get environmental organizations to participate in designing climate change policies, including Alberta’s recent appointment of Tzeporah Berman, the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s global climate and energy program and Co-founder of ForestEthics, who is co-chair of a provincial panel to decide how to allocate a cap on greenhouse gas emissions in the oilsands.

Canadian are also right to wonder why a deep-pocketed U.S. group with an army of lawyers is meddling in an all-Canadian pipeline project.

But true  to form, the NRDC is teaming up with local activists to show its campaign has local support. Anthony Swift, the NRDC’s Washington-based Canada Project director, is being joined at the news conference by Matthew Abbott, who is based in St. Andrews, N.B., and is a director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick; Laura Dorle, campaign director at Environment Maine and Lena Moffitt, director of Beyond Dirty Fuels at the Sierra Club.

Several other green groups have also targeted Energy East, including the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defence, Nature Canada and Equiterre.

In an interview in May, Abbott said he wasn’t familiar with Alberta’s climate change plan, but was opposed to Energy East because of its impact on fishing jobs and the risk of spills in the Bay of Fundy.

Note to policy makers struggling to implement unpopular carbon taxes: green groups build on their policy successes by demanding new ones, not by being satisfied with their accomplishments, which requires continued pressure, not moderation.

Claudia Cattaneo is the Western Business Columnist at the National Post.

Story: Financial Post