Should Alberta fear Obama’s latest tough talk on climate?

Luiza Ch. Savage on a story that merits watching closely


Alberta premier Alison Redford was in New York City yesterday making yet another in a series of state-side pitch for the Keystone XL pipeline. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama was in Berlin, delivering a foreign policy speech in which he described climate change as “the global threat of our time” and promised “bold action” from his administration.

Should Alberta be worried?

Perhaps not.

In a story that merits watching closely,  the New York Times reports that the Obama administration is planning to roll out ambitious new regulations for emissions from existing coal-fired power-plants — “the most consequential climate policy step he could take.”

This is the holy-grail of U.S. climate policy. Electricity-generation accounts for 38% of U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions (and 33% of overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), more than any other sector, according to the EPA. Strict regulations of power plants would have a much bigger impact on U.S. emissions than the fate of the pipeline.

There has long been speculation in Washington that Obama would issue some stringent regulations on power plants, and then later okay the cross-border pipeline project. He would be able to show his supporters – many of whom oppose Keystone XL – concrete progress on reducing emissions.

The Times reports that the power plant regulations could be coming very soon:

The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious. The president is preparing to move soon because rules as complex as those applying to power plants can take years to complete. Experts say that if Mr. Obama hopes to have a new set of greenhouse gas standards for utilities in place before he leaves office he needs to begin before the end of this year.  Heather Zichal, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, said Wednesday that the president would announce climate policy initiatives in coming weeks. Another official said a presidential address outlining the new policy, which will also include new initiatives on renewable power and energy efficiency, could come as early as next week. Ms. Zichal said none of the initiatives being considered by the administration required legislative action or new financing from Congress.

Meanwhile, a decision on Keystone XL is still months away. In an interview this week, departing U.S. ambassador David Jacobson told me that by his count, the administration won’t make a decision about the pipeline permit until 105 days after the State Department issues a final environmental impact statement. (The most recent environmental report by the State Department found that approving the pipeline would not have significant impact on the development of the oil sands — and by extension, on emissions.) The EPA responded with a critique of that report — rating it “Environmental Objections — Insufficient Information” suggesting a split inside the Obama administration over the project.) Jacobson said that once State issues its final environmental review, the administration would give various federal agencies 90 days to respond, and then would issue the National Interest Determination – essentially a recommendation on whether to permit the project based not only on the environmental factors, but other considerations such as energy security and the impact on relations with Canada. If there remain disagreements among agencies, the issue would be kicked up to the White House to be resolved. If federal agencies were in agreement, then the president would issue the permit.

But it could be that by the time a final decision is made, it’s possible that Obama may have already delivered something even bigger to the environmentalists among his political base.

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Should Alberta fear Obama’s latest tough talk on climate?

  1. Obama has everything to gain, and nothing to lose by refusing Keystone

    • I do agree with you on this one, probably for different reasons I suspect though.

      Obama will not approve keystone on his watch

    • Obama is out to destroy the USA with debt, lack of reliable energy and Solyndra waste are side shots. I do not listen to politicians mouths unless I assume it is deception and rant.

      Better guide iscto watch how they walk, not how they talk. Will admit Obama is a good BSer.

      • “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”.
        Winston Churchill

  2. If Obama denies the right of canadians to get world price he will destroy relations and give fuel to harper who can then use the denial to mandate alternatives – pipelines are strictly a federal responsibility – if harper wanted to he could say we are building northern gateway case closed – then he could appropriate whatever he needs and a close inspection of the route shows that most of the route is not within existing deals with first nations so he could overwrite them as well – now of course this would have serious political implications however – he could and everyone in the know knows this -since the war of 1812 it is the official position of american policy from the white house to keep us from controlling our own resources hence taking power from the yanks and making them weaker and more reliant upon us – but – this can no longer be – we have the energy they need – we have the water they need – we have the hydro they need- if we were motivated we could say we will forfeit our luxurious lifestyle and tell the yanks where to go and china here we come – in other words we are in the catbird seat – should Obama deny us world price – very simple really!

    • My goodness, what a fantasy THAT is!

      • no fantasy Emily – you need to study some history – right back to 1812 the reason the yanks attacked us was to prevent us getting world price and controlling the resources as they then become captive to our foreign postioning with respect to trade – when we signed the peace deal here was a mercantile arrangement setup and to this day whenever we get to the actual point of controlling our resources on the global market sooner or later in the fine print you can see the yanks worried – even NAFTA has sections on this! right now the yanks are worried as we are snapping up american companies like crazy right now! did you know that canada is in a net position with foreign assets! not talked about much -right now we own more american rolling stock than they do :)

        • I live in the 1812 war zone….and there was no such historical nonsense. We didn’t sign any peace deal…we were a colony. Britain signed, and they weren’t about to give up anything to a bunch of yankees. It was about borders, since oil wasn’t even in use at the time.

          The US was damned lucky we gave them back Detroit.

          We are not ‘snapping up American companies’, and no, NAFTA doesn’t have sections on this.

          I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff, but it’s hokum

    • Only that would be politically disastrous. This being the reason he has not yet done it.

    • “… the right of canadians to get world price…”

      Funny stuff. Maybe Harper can get the Charter amended to include this “right,” and then show it to Obama.

    • Yep, that is why the west is denied Pacific coast access, a sly form of NEP II, limit the market.

  3. The tar sands are an environmental holocaust, the dirtiest source of oil in the world located in an area the size of Florida. Alberta tar sands are a blackened treeless moonscape that can be seen by satellite, in what used to be pristine and old growth boreal forest and wetlands. Spewing lakes of toxic sludge which routinely kills thousands of wildlife, by 2020 they are expected to emit more than 141 million tons of greenhouse gases – more than double that currently produced by all the cars and trucks in Canada. Alberta has the world’s largest dam built to hold the toxic waste and sludge from just one tar sands operation. 350 million cubic metres is the volume of water currently allocated to the tar sands, the equivalent to the water required by a city of two million people. Alberta is now the industrial air pollution capital of Canada, with over one billion kilograms of emissions. Alberta wildlife and fish is being devastated and First Nation communities downstream of tar sands operation have been experiencing unprecedented rates of bile and colon cancer, lupus and other diseases from tar sands. This is what that renegade Harper is extorting and bribing other countries to accept. Environmental renegade doesn’t begin to describe the Harper tyrant, he’s sabotaged climate talks, massively polluted air and water, clearcut Canada, and engaged in horrific bloodbath massacres of wildlife. The pipeline would only make a few corporate billionaires in Canada and the US rich, create a total of 35 permanent jobs, people are being kicked off their properties because of it from Canadian companies using eminent domain on Americans, they can slide by with hundreds of thousands of gallons of unreported “spillage” into American lakes, streams and aquifers and the oil from that pipeline would be shipped off to China after being refined by Texas refineries..aside from the Harper government’s continuing destruction of Canada there is virtually no benefit to the American public from that insane pipeline, only massive harm.

    • Whatever it is that you are smoking…… I really would like some of it.

    • The half of your spiel you didn’t pull out of your hat, you picked up from dissembling pamphleteers. Congratulations, I don’t think it’s necessarily ad hominem to say that I’ve never seen so many lies in one post, almost every single figure is wrong or misrepresented.

    • The oil sands are not clean, no argument there. Though what you have presented is the worst type hyperbolic nonsense, full of half truths.

      -“the dirtiest source of oil in the world located in an area the size of Florida” The entire area of the deposit is 140,000km^2, the mineable area is around 4800km^2, the area of the land that has been mined is 715km^2. The area of Florida is 170,304km^2. Florida is 238x times larger than the mined area of the oil sands, you are off by two orders of magnitude with your statement. Also you should look up well to wheel CO2 emission of oil. Heavy Mexican and Nigerian crudes have emission just as high, if not higher than oil sands oil.

      -“Alberta tar sands are a blackened treeless moonscape that can be seen by satellite,” Meaningless, so can cities, so can cars on a highway, so can farmers fields.

      -“350 million cubic meters is the volume of water currently allocated to the tar sands, the equivalent to the water required by a city of two million people.” Big number, but what does it mean for northern Alberta? Alberta licences out 10 billion cubic meters of water a year, 4 billion alone for irrigation. Just pointing out a big number does not make point.

      -“Alberta is now the industrial air pollution capital of Canada, with over one billion kilograms of emissions” So was every other province in Canada, nice try at using kilograms for emissions to make them look more dramatic. 2011 Emission: Alberta 242 Mt CO2e, Ontario 170.6 Mt CO2e, PEI 2.2 Mt CO2e (2.2 Billion kilograms of emissions!!!!!)

      -“The pipeline would only make a few corporate billionaires in Canada and the US rich, create a total of 35 permanent jobs” Do you actually believe this? So a pipeline that would increase pipeline capacity by 500,000 barrels a day would only create 35 permanent jobs. You do realize that thousands of jobs would be created by increasing oil production to create that extra 500,000 barrels a day.

      You should be more critical of what you spout. Regurgitating the talking points of enviro-groups without looking at the facts makes you look like a tool. There is a lot to be critical about the oil sands, but the nonsense that you are presenting only weakens legitimate criticism about the oil sands.

      • At this point, facts and figures don’t matter I’m afraid. What you have there now is baby seals. White fluffy cute baby seals.

        • Is that why you gave complete misinformation an up vote?

          • THERE you are! Glad to know you’re alive…..didja get yer jeans wet?

            And yup….that’s the image….like it or not

          • Thank you for the good wishes. I am evacuated. I don’t really want to go back to see my home. I hope it has fared okay but when all is said and done, my family is safe and for that I am extremely grateful. The power and gas are out. I am really hopeful that it stops raining for a decent amount of time but alas I don’t think that is to be for at least a few more days so I will try to be patient. I feel really sick for the families of the four people who are presumed dead in High River. The devastation is incredible. Our emergency services personnel and governments have been awesome. Mayor Nenshi deserves to take a bow for his handling of things in our city.

          • I can see the dilemma….wanting to go back, yet not really wanting to see it.

            Yes, if your family is safe, that’s all that really matters. The rest is just ‘things’….and replaceable.

            Were there ever any practices for this kind of event….?

          • Yes, disaster services do mock disaster practices. There is a an entire disaster preparation department in the health services and Al;berta government. The province has also had some “real” disaster training in the form of the Edmonton tornado in the mid 1980’s and the Pine Lake tornado about 15 years ago, as well as the Slave Lake fire. Luckily only about 1500 or so people had to use the shelters out of the 75,000 people in Calgary who were evacuated from their homes. Everyone else found shelter with family and friends.

          • Good to know. How to evacuate a zoo and where to put large cats isn’t the kind of decision people should leave to the last minute ….and when under pressure!

            Yet I’ve found small places especially, that have a plan from …..1955……about how to deal with a train derailment, say. They can’t find the plan, and if it has chemicals on board… clue.

            Are you with family/friends or in an evac centre?

          • I am with family. The offers poured in (no pun intended) as soon as it was announced that my neighborhood was being evacuated. We had the police driving and walking up and down our street as well as the police helicopters flying over announcing that we had to leave within the 1/2 hour.

            Facebook has been great because it has let everyone know that people are safe and where they have landed. Some crazy stubborn people refused to leave. In some communities, they ended up having to be rescued off of the roof of their houses. What you learn is that you NEED to leave because your staying is a hindrance to the emergency workers doing their job. What happened in my neighborhood is that the area became isolated with all of the bridges leading in and and out of it being closed. They then shut off the power to all of the areas that were evacuated meaning that people who have hand-held phones (vs a wall phone that plugs in to the wall) have no way to call out once their cell phone battery is dead. They also cannot use their lap tops/computers once those batteries die. Their only contact with the outside world is to walk around and try to contact a police officer on duty in the neighborhood. Not a enviable position to be in.

          • I don’t understand it, but in every emergency there are always a few who insist on staying behind. And then people risk their lives having to go back and save them when they realize ….finally….the danger they are in.

            Well some do anyway….the guy on Mount St Helen’s was never found after the eruption,,,,but then anybody who’d live on the side of a volcano anyway…..

            Glad to hear you’re with family. I had visions of you sitting on a gym floor or in a church basement or something.

            Best of all….online access!

    • Yep, and we are cleaning up natures oil spill. Getting job too, you know, jobs thate pay for welfare state waste.

  4. Depends on if we get Pacific coast access or not. USA is not the only country we can ship to unless we let corrupt politics sell the west out for market limiting low prices.

    Obama maybe prefers his oil with blood in it.