Even former President George Bush had to admit that the US economy – like many others but even more so – is addicted to oil, which increasingly means imported oil. The question is do we continue to feed the addict no matter what the costs and consequences, or do we encourage the addict to kick the habit?
The Bush Administration’s energy policy, to the extent that there was any policy, was the former. When petrol prices hit new highs, the administration would send emissaries to Saudi Arabia asking for increased OPEC production. There was little attention paid to increasing fuel efficiency of cars – or better yet – allowing higher prices to do the job by encouraging gas sipping rather than gas guzzling cars. And as far as the Bush Administration was concerned, climate change could wait for the next President.
Candidate Obama’s promise was that he would reverse Bush era policies. But President Obama has discovered that it was one thing to promise as a candidate and an entirely different thing to deliver given a skeptical Congress, powerful special interest groups and pressure from strategic partners.
A case in point was a proposal by Enbridge Energy to build Alberta Clipper, a 1,000 mile pipeline to transport 800,000 barrels of oil extracted from tar sands of Alberta to the US. Environmentalists on both side of the border opposed the pipeline since extracting oil from tar sands is energy-intensive and causes significant water and land degradation. Estimates vary depending on who you ask, but most experts say extracting a barrel of oil from tar sands releases at least 5 times more greenhouse gas emissions as that associated with conventional oil.
A similar pipeline proposed by TransCanada received Bush administration’s blessing in 2008. Environmentalists, hoping that things would be different under the Obama administration, were disappointed when the US state department granted a permit for the project to proceed in mid August.
The project’s opponents point out that allowing the pipeline to be built would be the wrong decision at the wrong time, just months before the Copenhagen conference in December. The critics ask how can the US – or Canada – seriously talk about averting climate change in Copenhagen if one country is willing to ruin its landscape and the other is willing to buy the dirty oil so Joe Plumber can drive his gas guzzling SUV on $3 per gallon oil?
Keith Stewart, director of climate change at World Wildlife Fund Canada was quoted in The Financial Times (11 Aug 09) saying, “Approving new mega projects like Alberta Clipper pipeline would lock North America into the old, high-carbon energy economy,” adding, “We need to invest in the green economy of the future, not pour billions into the Betamax of the energy world.”
By allowing the project to proceed, Obama’s green credentials are tarnished.
This post is extracted from EEnergy Informer, September 2009 issue.