First Nations leader brings truth about tar sands to EU during fuel quality directive battle

• October 2, 2013
fuel quality directive

Fort McMurray, Alberta tar sands industry site. Creative Commons: Kris Krug, 2012

First Nations leader George Poitras travelled this week to the UK to testify to policymakers and MPs in support of the EU Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), shedding light on the true impacts of tar sands oil and countering the Canadian government’s pro-tar sands lobbying.

The EU is negotiating the details of a policy known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), in which tar sands fuel would be labelled as highly polluting and an extra cost will be added onto it to discourage its use. Approval of the FQD would  help the EU meet its emissions reduction goal from transportation, and it would make the price of tar sands oil more honestly reflect the costs of the tar sands industry to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, the environment and the climate.

Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, will speak in a UK Parliamentary event on Thursday, alongside renewables expert Jeremy Leggett and Greenpeace EU transport policy adviser Franziska Achterberg. Poitras will speak to the impacts of the Canadian tar sands industry on Indigenous Peoples in Alberta, and to encourage the UK to approve the FQD. He will also visit France and the Netherlands.

The visit of the First Nations leader coincides with a pro-tar sands lobby tour to undermine the FQD by ministers of the Canadian government. Alberta Premier Alison Redford has sent two senior ministers on a week-long trip to try to create a friendly market in the EU for dirty tar sands oil.

Poitras, who lives downstream from tar sands development, said:

The government of Alberta’s pro-tar sands tour of Europe is taking place at the same time that I am advocating for the EU to take action to stop tar sands imports. The Alberta government will try to emphasize their efforts on environmental monitoring, greenhouse gas reduction, and investment in alternative energy technologies, however the truth is that tar sands are devastating First Nations communities and the environment, and having far reaching impacts on the global climate.

The UK government has also been a major stumbling block in passing the directive, arguing along with the Canadian government that the FQD should not make a blanket distinction that tar sands fuel is more polluting than conventional fuel.

Claims that Canada is already addressing the environmental and climate pollution of the tar sands industry don’t hold up in reality. Franziska Achterberg, EU transport policy director of Greenpeace European Unit, said,

This EU legislation would label tar sands as what they are: severely polluting and a threat to the global climate. The FQD would effectively close the EU market for fuels produced from tar sands and make investment in this destructive process much less attractive. The law is not designed to discriminate against Canada or any other nation, but rather to protect the climate, human health and the natural environment.

The production of tar sands oil creates three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, and the tar sands are the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada. The industry’s pollution of the land, air and waterways in Alberta has caused the devastation of the ancient boreal forests of Canada and has poisoned downstream communities. In 2008, Alberta Health confirmed a 30% increase in cancer rates in one such community, Fort Chipewyan.

The FQD, which would discourage the import of tar sands oil to the EU, would send an important signal that tar sands oil is a bad investment and could help hinder the rapid expansion of this dangerous industry.

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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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