BRETTON WOODS, New Hampshire, July 15, 2014 (ENS) – More than 100 people rallied Sunday outside the annual meeting of the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in Bretton Woods to call on the region’s leaders to keep tar sands oil out of New England.
New England faces several proposed pipelines that would transport the heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands – the proposed Portland-Montreal Pipeline reversal, the proposed Energy East pipeline, and TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
A pipeline currently permitted to carry oil from Portland, Maine north to Montreal, by way of New Hampshire, is being proposed to bring oil south from Alberta’s tar sands to Portland. Canadian officials have approved this use for the Canadian portion of the pipeline.
Energy East would bring western crude to Irving Oil Ltd.’s Saint John refinery in New Brunswick, a major exporter to New England and mid-Atlantic states.
The Keystone XL pipeline, which still needs a Presidential Permit to cross the Canada-U.S. border, would bring tar sands oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
On Sunday, demonstrators from the Tar Sands Free Northeast coalition used street theater to draw attention to the dangers of tar sands oil, which could make up 18 percent of the region’s petroleum-based transportation and heating fuel supply by 2020, according to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“There’s a reason that the tar sands mines are nicknamed ‘Mordor,’ said Emily Kirkland, Communications Coordinator at Better Future Project, referring to the region occupied and controlled by evil beings in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels.
“Tar sands oil means clear-cut forests and poisoned water – plus broken treaties with First Nations peoples and staggering levels of carbon pollution,” said Kirkland.
The rally came days after the South Portland City Council took a first step towards banning the flow of tar sands oil through the Maine city. The officials worry that an tar sands oil could undermine the region’s recent progress on reducing climate pollution.
“We are calling on our elected leaders to implement a regional clean fuels standard to keep tar sands oil out of our energy mix, and we are asking them to oppose projects that would move dirty tar sands through the region,” said Glen Brand of the Sierra Club. “State and regional leaders have not adequately addressed the threat of tar sands oil.”
Last month, 25 groups wrote a letter to New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, who co-chaired this year’s meeting, along with the other five New England Governors and five Eastern Canadian Premiers, asking them to address the carbon intensity of the region’s fuels and the threat of tar sands crude oil transport.
While tar sands was not on the agenda for this year’s conference, Governor Hassan replied to the letter, committing to direct her representatives on the appropriate committees to raise these issues in the coming year. The governor indicated that as a region, the Northeast states are working to develop tools to track the carbon intensity of the region’s fuels.
But New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard defended the Energy East project, saying it would displace imported crude – and oil shipped by rail from western North America.
Leonard told Canada’s “Globe & Mail” newspaper, “We’re all trying to move towards a more renewable-based economy, but it’s not going to happen overnight. “And while there is a demand for oil, it makes more sense for us to sell our own product to other jurisdictions and utilize our own product rather than depend on other nations for our needs.”
“New England’s leaders have a tremendous opportunity to keep climate disrupting tar sands out of the northeast and build on the region’s efforts to realize a clean, wildlife-friendly energy future,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel at National Wildlife Federation. “We expect to see progress over the next year in ensuring tar sands don’t end up in our tanks or our backyards.”
“The major climate implications of tar sands fuels make this an issue that deserves full consideration by our region’s leaders,” said Jennifer Rushlow, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “While we are seeing signs of incremental progress in taking the threat of tar sands fuels seriously, our leaders need to prioritize the health of our communities and environment and work proactively to prevent this highly polluting fuel from entering the region.”
“I just returned from the Healing Walk in Alberta, where I walked alongside hundreds of First Nations people whose land is being destroyed at an alarming rate. The water for these remote First Nation Communities is literally being trucked in, as their water is no longer fit to drink. I can say with certainty that tar sands oil is not a product that humanity can support further production of. No energy supply should come at that price,” said Sarah Lachance, 350 Maine Tar Sands team co-coordinator.
As the conference concluded Monday, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) adopted three non-binding resolutions on economic development, energy, and transportation and air quality.
The economic development resolution calls on the NEG/ECP’s Coordinating Committee to establish and oversee a process to identify opportunities and challenges for regional economic development and trade to enhance the region’s economic competitiveness. An interim report is due at next year’s conference, with the final findings and proposed actions to be presented at the 2016 NEG/ECP Conference.
On energy, the NEG/ECP directed the Northeast International Committee on Energy to organize a regional forum in late 2014 for a public-private sector dialogue on the ongoing changes to the region’s energy landscape. The findings will identify collaborative actions in a report to the governors and premiers at their 2015 conference.
And building on work from last year’s conference, the NEG/ECP Transportation and Air Quality Committee will work with the Environment and Energy committees to enhance transportation choices for a more sustainable transportation future, strengthening infrastructure to enhance public transportation, biking and walking options.
Douglas Whitbeck of the nonprofit organization 350NH encouraged these efforts. “We need our governmental leaders to exhibit creative thinking in choosing the path to meet our society’s energy needs,” he said.
“We need innovative solutions to achieve our energy goals without increasing our dependence on fossil fuels that will devastate our environment,” Whitbeck said. “Our leaders must consider their decision’s true cost to our citizens and our environment. We hope they consider that green energy has demonstrated enormous long-term job potential – and that there are no jobs on a dead planet.”