A group of Canadian opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have been meeting in Washington, DC this week with senators, members of Congress, and officials at the U.S. State Department to attack the credibility of the Harper government. The critics have been pressing the message that the Harper government cannot be trusted to live up to its climate emissions commitments, and accusing the government of muzzling scientists and silencing critics.
“They’ve learned very well from the Bush-Cheney administration and are following many of their policies,” scientist and broadcaster, David Suzuki told journalists at a press conference this morning at the National Press Club. “They have been systematically suppressing the ability of our scientists to speak out–either by intimidation, because they control potential grants, but also deliberately firing them or muzzling them.” (A similar Bush/Cheney comparison was made last month in the pages of the New York Times.)
A former Obama White House deputy press secretary, Bill Burton, who moderated the press conference, described as “shocking” the “lengths to which the Harper government is going to suppress this information.” Burton has left the White House and works for a public affairs firm and consults for environmental groups.
Obama said this summer that he will decide whether or not to permit the pipeline based on its impact on climate emissions. Burton said that Canada should “take him at his word” that emissions will be the key criteria, and emphasized that the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement that said the pipeline would not significantly exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions–because the same oil could be moved by rail–was merely a draft and subject to change.
The Canadian activists described their trip as an attempt to counter the message frequently delivered in Washington by the governments of Canada and Alberta, which have emphasized the fact that Canada has committed to the same greenhouse gas emissions targets as the United States: a 17 per cent reduction by the year 2020.
They said the pipeline was a critical enabler over future expansion of the oil sands, and therefore incompatible with those goals.
“It’s like saying you’re going to lose weight by eating more,” said Danny Harvey, a geography professor at the University of Toronto, and an author of IPCC reports on climate change. “If you look at what the government wants in expansion [of the oil sands], we’d have to reduce emissions by 22 per cent in six years. That just can’t be done. There is no plausible way we could come close.”
“Canada has no credibility in its stated desire to properly manage this project,” said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, referring to the oil sands.
Activist Tzeporah Berman said that occasional claims that Canada is doing more than the U.S. on climate emissions is “absurd.”
The group also included Franke James, a Canadian artist, who says her climate-themed art show was cancelled in Europe after objections from the Canadian government. She has created a series of large posters criticizing the Canadian government and the pipeline project that are being displayed around downtown Washington, DC. James said the project is being financed by a combination of crowd-sourcing, her personal funds, and money from U.S. environmental groups including NRDC and the Sierra Club.
Asked whether Americans would care about accusations by the activists about events inside Canada, Burton, the former press secretary, replied: “Americans would be very surprised that this very un-Canadian activity is happening just to the north of us. There is a debate about something that will have a great impact on both of our countries that is being silenced by a government that is so worried about the public finding out about it. Just the act of trying to silence people in a debate is an important things for Americans to know–because it speaks to how grave a danger this is that the government doesn’t want it to be discussed at all.”
The activists’ trip came just as the Canadian government prepares a 2-year $24-million international advertising campaign aimed at shoring up the image of the oil sands in the United States and elsewhere.