Bil Oil undermines EU climate legislation, secures deregulation in CETA

Photo: Protesting CETA and the tar sands outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
Photo: Protesting CETA and the tar sands outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

This past May a ship with 600,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen from northern Alberta arrived at the Repsol refinery in Bilbao, Spain. It was the first shipment of tar sands crude to arrive in Europe. Then two weeks ago the Minerva Gloria supertanker with 700,000 barrels of tar sands crude left the port of Sorel-Tracy in Quebec, made its way up the St. Lawrence River and headed to the Saras refinery in Sarroch, Italy. That ship is scheduled to arrive today.

This morning CBC reports, "A European Union plan to label crude from oil sands as highly polluting in its fight against climate change has been abandoned after years of opposition led by major producer Canada. A proposal published by the European Commission on Tuesday removes an obstacle to Canada exporting oil sands crude to Europe..."

The European Fuel Quality Directive was a modest climate measure to reduce emissions from transport fuel by six per cent by 2020. Part of the plan was to assign specific carbon intensities to different types of oil, with tar sands and fracked oil obviously having higher values.

Today's news article notes, "EU sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the desire for a trade deal with Canada [CETA] had been a factor given the situation with Moscow [as tensions grow between Europe and its top oil supplier Russia]."

As we noted in a September 2011 campaign blog, Canada's chief negotiator for CETA suggested that Canada would challenge the EU at the World Trade Organization if the fuel quality directive wasn't changed. In January 2012, a provincial trade negotiator called on the Alberta government to withhold its support for CETA given the impact the directive would have on the tar sands. And the Harper government even went as far as threatening to scrap CETA if the European Union persisted with its plans for a fuel quality directive.

Yesterday, Murray Dobbin wrote in the Tyee.ca that Big Oil won big with CETA. He writes, "While there has been attention paid to some key provisions of CETA -- such as its investor state rules, its impact on Canadian drug pricing and its curbs on governments' ability to buy local -- there has been almost nothing in the media about CETA's chapter on domestic regulation. ...A new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report on CETA suggests there should be, because the articles of that chapter seem designed to kill efforts to regulate the resource industry. In other words just as governments need to get deadly serious about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels they are tying their own hands through new restrictions on their right to regulate."

Dobbin highlights, "CETA places an absolute value on the ease with which corporations can get approval of their projects. It demands that parties ensure 'that licensing and qualification procedures are as simple as possible and do not unduly complicate or delay the supply of a service or the pursuit of any other economic activity.' (Art. 2, Sec. 7) Requiring that oil and gas companies do environmental assessments, archaeological studies or get approvals from different levels of government is clearly a process that could be made simpler by doing away with these requirements altogether. Obligations to consult with the public and First Nations certainly complicate the regulatory process and cause delays."

He adds, "Whether or not governments have simplified their licensing processes to the absolute maximum extent possible and are not causing 'undue' delays or complications would be up to a panel of trade lawyers to decide in the event of a dispute. They could look at examples from the most deregulated jurisdictions to determine what is 'as simple as possible'."

The Council of Canadians has taken many action over the past several years to support the Fuel Quality Directive including lobbying national legislatures in Europe, writing an open letter to all members of the European Parliament, supporting newspaper advertisements in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, promoting a photo-based action alert, lobbying European embassies in Ottawa, meeting with MEPs visiting Canada, producing a fact sheet with allies as well as writing campaign blogs.

We will continue to campaign to stop the ratification of CETA, block the Energy East pipeline (that would help facilitate tar sands shipments to Europe), promote a ban on tar sands shipments on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, and support our European friends and allies as they work for effective climate protection legislation there.