When President Barack Obama decided in early November to delay a decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline until after the next election, America’s environmental movement celebrated one of its biggest victories in recent memory. And no doubt the news came as a blow to Alberta’s tar sands industry, and to Canada’s oft-stated dream of becoming the next global energy superpower.
But behind activists’ jubilation lurked a somber reality, an untold story with much wider implications. The broader fight to reform Alberta’s tar sands, the one which actually stood a chance of breaking America’s addiction to the continent’s most polluting road fuel, has been quietly abandoned over the past several years. For that we can thank the planet’s richest oil companies and their Canadian government allies, who’ve together waged a stealthy war against President Obama’s climate change ambitions.
On Pennsylvania Avenue
Perhaps the best place to start is on December 30, 2009. It was a bad day for Michael Whatley, founding partner at a K-Street consulting firm in Washington called HBW Resources that has close ties to Alberta’s tar sands industry. The reason: 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors had agreed in writing to consider adopting one of the planet’s most forward-looking climate change policies, something called a low-carbon fuel standard. Whatley thought his friend Mar would be interested. “Please let me know your thoughts,” Whatley emailed him.