Alberta Premier Alison Redford is all about facts for her fourth trip to Washington in 18 months. In a webcast speech to the independent think tank, the Brookings Institution yesterday, she said she was hoping to “change the conversation” about the Keystone XL pipeline.
“To be honest, one of the reasons that I wanted to come this week is that the dialogue that’s going on right now does suffer some fairly glaring deficiencies,” she claimed.
She believes that groups opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline are “overshadowing essential truths and we need to make sure that whatever our perspective might be on this project that we’re talking about facts.”
Redford quoted some familiar numbers in the debate over the pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of Texas. “The oil sands contribute 21 percent of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions, 7 percent of Canada’s emissions, and less than 0.15 percent of the global total,” she said.
One fact she neglected to mention was that, according to the Pembina Institute, “At a rate of 69 tonnes CO2 equivalent per person, if Alberta were a country, it would have per capita emissions more than three times that of either the U.S. or Canada.”
Throughout the speech, Redford touted Alberta’s environmental record. “Alberta is home to some of the most environmentally friendly, progressive legislation in the world,” she said.
Boreal program director at the Northern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Helene Walsh, concedes via e-mail that the province does have excellent legislation. The problem, she says, is “we do not enforce it.”
In fact, Walsh sees several factual inaccuracies in Redford's claims. She points to the example of the cumulative effects of development, which must be addressed according to both the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, but has been largely ignored. This claim has been backed up by several independent studies, including one by a Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel.
“When it became well known that our tar sands monitoring was not effective in 2004, government should have stopped new approvals,” Walsh says. “But of course that did not happen, and so since 2004 we have not been following our own laws with respect to cumulative effects.”
Massive tar sands development has also lead to dwindling populations of caribou in Northern Alberta, “in spite of commitments and policies from government and industry to maintain them,” says Walsh.
Walsh argues that there is also little evidence for Redford’s claim that growth of tailing ponds will be halted by 2016 and that reclamation of the landscape has already.
The ponds are disappearing “Only in the sense that their toxic contents are transferred into End Pit Lakes covered by fresh water and then left for nature and future generations to deal with,” she says.
She also believes that reclamation of the boreal forests is not sufficient to return biodiversity to areas devastated by tar sands development.
During the speech, Redford also brought up the specter of energy security, saying that opponents to Keystone are unwittingly tilting the playing field in favour of Venezuela. “Unlike so many of your suppliers, Alberta is part of a democratic nation, so your dollars go to support a free and open society—when they don’t come back to you,” she said.
Walsh points out that Venezuela’s protected areas comprise 36% of the country, while Alberta’s comprise only 12% and most of what is protected has little or no commercial value in terms of logging or mining. They are also “not useful for conservation of biodiversity because they do not include enough area for caribou and other species.”
During the question period with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, moderated by scholar Daniel Yergin, several protestors stood up to call attention to perceived falsehoods in Premier Redford’s arguments by holding up orange papers that read “FALSE. #NoKXL.”
Later in the day, Redford expressed surprise at the protestors. "Not everyone is always going to agree," she said. "I think the important part is that we share a common platform… a place where we can have that conversation."
However, after the half-an-hour-long speech followed by fourty-five minutes of questions in which she argued forcefully for the pipeline, Redford told reporters, "It is not my job to be the proponent of that project."
"There is a private company that has a commercial interest, that is going through a process where they are addressing the issues that need to be addressed by decision-makers in the United States," she said.
For additonal in-depth information on Redford's "Facts" see Greenpeace Canada's "Fact-checking Premier Redford's Speech in Washington."
Image Credit: dave.cournoyer via flickr.