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Monday, November 29, 2010

Canada asked firms to help kill U.S. green policies. Diplomats sought solution to ensure that 'the oil keeps a-flowing,' according to documents

Canada asked firms to help kill U.S. green policies.


Diplomats sought solution to ensure that 'the oil keeps a-flowing,' according to documents


Canadian diplomats in Washington have quietly asked oil-industry players such as ExxonMobil and BP to help "kill" U.S. global-warming policies in order to ensure that "the oil keeps a-flowing" from Alberta into the U.S. marketplace, Postmedia News has learned.

In a series of newly released correspondence from Canada's Washington embassy, the Canadian diplomats describe recommendations from Environment Canada to clean up the oilsands as "simply nutty," proposing instead to "kill any interpretation" of U.S. energy legislation that would apply to the industry.

"We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing," wrote Jason Tolland, from the Canadian Embassy in an exchange of e-mails with government trade lawyers on Feb. 8, 2008.

The correspondence, released to the Pembina Institute, an environmental research group, that obtained it through access-to-information legislation, comes as the international community gathers in Cancun for the annual United Nations summit on global warming.

The new documents follow revelations by Postmedia News last week that the Harper government had crafted a communications strategy with industry stakeholders and the Alberta government to attack foreign environmental policies and promote the oilsands.

Clare Demerse, associate director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, said the government should remember that it works for Canadians, not the oil firms.

"A responsible government would see clean energy policies outside our borders as an opportunity to do better, not as a threat," said Clare Demerse.

"Reading through these documents, I'm struck that no one at Foreign Affairs ever acknowledges that cutting greenhouse-gas pollution could be a good thing. Instead, the officials dismiss U.S. efforts to clean up the fuel they buy as 'protectionism.' "

The messages from diplomats were sent as the oilsands industry was lobbying against Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which could restrict U.S. government departments and agencies from buying fuel with a high environmental footprint.

"The U.S. government -- read administration -- is looking to us to provide support for their work to kill any interpretation of this section that would apply to Canadian oil sands," wrote Tolland. "That is the purpose of this."

The correspondence reveals that the Canadian diplomats had contacted officials from the American Petroleum Institute -- an industry association -- as well as from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Encana Corp., and Marathon Oil Corp. "to point out the potential implication to their imports from Canada."

One e-mail sent by Paul Connors, who at the time was an energy counsellor at the embassy, encouraged an official with Exxon Mobil to get involved in the political debate against the legislation.

"I would encourage your firm to make its views known to DOE (U.S. Department of Energy) and the Hill (politicians)," wrote Connors to Susan E. Carter from Exxon Mobil on Jan. 22, 2008. "I would be most grateful for your company's views on the issue."

According to Article 41 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, visiting diplomats in a receiving state "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State."

In a separate e-mail, Connors also rejected a recommendation from Helen Ryan, a senior Environment Canada official responsible for oil, gas and alternative energy, that the Canadian government needed to convey, in a letter from the ambassador, the importance of putting "more pressure" on the oilsands industry to invest in technology to clean up their pollution.

"If intended for the letter, (this point) is simply nutty," wrote Connors on Feb. 19, 2008.

When asked if the tactics used by the Canadian diplomats were accepted practices, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade defended the oilsands industry and said that meetings with decision-makers, those who influence them and stakeholders on Canadian priorities are a regular aspect of Canada's engagement abroad.

"Canada does not consider oil from oil sands to be an alternative fuel," wrote Laura Markle in an e-mail.

"Oil sands production is commercial and, like other oil, is processed in conventional facilities. The government will continue the promotion of a strategic resource that will contribute to energy security for Canada, North America and the world for decades to come."

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