AB-oilsands-Ft-McMurray-aerials-Bracken-111

‘You win some, you lose some’

In this week’s newsletter, we get into a story about an oil giant lobbying to bend pollution rules — one of many examples of the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, and why we try to uncover it all

The Narwhal's masthead logo
Man in a rainjacket stands in front of oil storage tanks spelling Irving.


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That might be the slogan of all lobbyists and politicians in Ottawa — and it was certainly the approach Irving Oil took last year, according to documents I got my hands on for my latest investigation.

This story, however, is about more than persistent lobbying. It’s a reminder of how oil and gas companies are adept at diverting political and public attention towards dealing with their concerns, on their terms — and away from the fact that fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis. 

To recap: Irving Oil asked the federal government to change some pollution rules to favour its Atlantic Canada refinery. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault rejected the request in a letter sent in early January last year. Changing it would go against the whole point of the program, he wrote, which is to cut down on the carbon used to make the gasoline and diesel that Canadian vehicles guzzle daily, and to help make low-carbon alternatives more available. 

So that was it, right? Nope. Officials anticipated Irving Oil would continue to press them on the topic over several planned meetings. As recently as last July, the government was still preparing notes to show it planned to stand its ground.

Irving Oil had its reasons for why it wanted the change. The federal government had its reasons for not budging. In a sense, you could say this is part of the normal back-and-forth of Ottawa politics. You win some, you lose some.

But it’s more than that. Irving Oil argued that not getting what it wanted could “negatively impact” not only its own business, but the “regional economy and potential job creation.” That argument was echoed by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (a former Irving Oil executive) and by federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre (who wants to scorch several climate policies). As a result, the economic impact of those pollution rules on Irving Oil drove headlines.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the industry often tries to frame its lobbying against climate action in terms of economic or affordability impacts on Canadian workers and consumers.
 

Illustration of lobbyists handing a list of requests to former Alberta premier Jason Kenney, with file called "CAPP 132"


In January, for example, I reported TC Energy, one of Canada’s largest pipeline operators, had lobbied to exclude two major pollution sources from its emissions cap. The company said it was trying to advocate in part for “affordability” and that its proposal would achieve meaningful reductions in emissions “without impacting the energy supply that households and businesses rely on every day.”

Or take the story I published last summer on the Pathways Alliance, representing some of Canada’s largest oil producers, which lobbied to weaken and delay the emissions cap, saying the government should account for the “continued demand for fossil fuels by 2050” — and consider “flexible and cost-effective” rules.

In 2020 and 2021, lobbyists pushed for dozens of meetings with Alberta officials, quietly asking for public support without which they said they risked shedding jobs. In that instance, the province even dropped meeting discussions on carbon pollution from the oilsands when lobbyists intervened.

Prairies reporter Drew Anderson and I jointly reported how this same premise led oil and gas lobbyists to push for a long “wish list” during emergency pandemic relief meetings with government that ended up in a temporary rollback of environmental oversight.

Canada’s oil and gas lobbying has the ability to crowd out space talking about the importance of fossil fuel infrastructure in a way that can lead to decisions that lock in our dependence on these energy sources. It can dominate the conversation at a time when there’s an urgent need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and for governments to help consumers switch to cleaner — and often cheaper and more efficient — technology like renewables or heat pumps.

I report on these issues because I believe we need to hold industry accountable for any attempts to weaken or slow down climate policy and for its tendency to suck up the air in Canada’s environmental conversation. I hope I’m helping people realize there’s more to the story than refineries, pipelines or “carbon taxes” — that the global energy transition is coming, whether we like it or not, and in that future, there will be less demand for Canada’s fossil fuels.

Our governments and the politicians who represent us can either keep ignoring that reality, or get on with the business of helping us thrive within it.

I look forward to exposing more industry lobbying and filing more freedom of information requests that help me secure internal government documents showing how wide and deep it all goes.

They’ll continue to try and talk about the fossil fuel economy — we’ll keep framing it around the climate crisis. I hope you’ll keep reading. 

Take care and tune out the noise,

Carl Meyer
Climate investigations reporter
Headshot of Carl Meyer


P.S. We recently announced The Narwhal’s 2024 Indigenous photojournalism fellowship, open to a First Nations, Inuit or Métis photographer based in so-called Ontario who has a story they’ve been hoping to share about the natural world. Know someone who’d be a great fit? Forward this newsletter to them — the deadline to apply is April 15!
 
Support critical climate journalism 🤍
A freestanding billboard that says "ENERGY" having the words "clean", "environmentally friendly", "natural", "biodegradable" and "climate neutral" added to it.

a red bar

Another Big Story


Speaking of the fossil fuel industry dominating public discourse on its terms: we’ve been keeping an eye on greenwashing — like reporting on the many complaints about oil and gas companies and industry groups making environmental claims that don’t hold up to scrutiny. Read all about these alleged greenwashing attempts over here!

To bring more attention to this industry tactic, Carl Meyer went on The Big Story podcast this week to talk about what happens when businesses try to fool people about their ecological legitimacy. Check it out here, or wherever you get your podcasts!
 


a red bar

This week in The Narwhal

A bus emits smoke travelling along a highway under a blue sky and sunshine
Carbon tax in Canada
Trending topic
With everything more expensive these days, Canadians are paying more and more attention to anything that might boost costs. One thing under scrutiny is carbon pricing, or the carbon tax — whatever you want to call it. We’ve got our eyes on the climate measure everyone is talking about!

READ MORE
 
A comic-style illustration of former Ontario housing minister Steve Clark and his former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, both wearing suits in an office. Clark is reading a document, and a speech bubble over Amato's head says: "Leave it with me."
Staffers who quit amid Ontario Greenbelt scandal earned full year’s salary — despite resigning last summer
By Charlie Pinkerton and Emma McIntosh
READ MORE
 
Transmission towers and lines on a snowy day near Gillam, Manitoba
The demand for power might make one of Canada’s cleanest grids dirtier
By Julia-Simone Rutgers
READ MORE
 
Two zodiacs heading out on the water in Saklek fiord in the Torngat Mountains
From the Torngat Mountains to the Labrador Sea, a new Inuit-led protected area takes a step forward
By Elaine Anselmi
READ MORE
 
Melissa Hafting sits down while bird watching in Iona Regional Park in Richmond, B.C.
Opinion: I experienced unimaginable grief. In birds, I found a reason to go on
By Melissa Hafting
READ MORE
 
GIF of a bunny pushing its face into a human hand.

POV: The Narwhal staff taking a bit of a break for the long weekend — we’ll be back and respond to your emails April 2! Tell your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletter so they don’t miss out on in-depth climate reporting when we return!

The Narwhal's logo
View this e-mail in your browser

Sign up for this newsletter

You are on this list because you signed up to receive The Narwhal’s newsletter.  
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

*|HTML:LIST_ADDRESS_HTML|* *|END:IF|*

Copyright © *|CURRENT_YEAR|* The Narwhal, all rights reserved.

Conservation chronicles: Sarah Cox dives into the heart of wildlife protection in her new book

In her new book Signs of Life: Field Notes from the Frontlines of Extinction award-winning journalist Sarah Cox takes readers on a journey across Canada:...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Thousands of members make The Narwhal’s independent journalism possible. Will you help power our work in 2024?
Will you help power our journalism in 2024?
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
Overlay Image