The sheer determination of Canada’s current government to protect the oil sands by undermining Obama’s climate policy is considerable. Most recently, they have been arguing that oil sands extraction operations should be treated in the same way as American coal plants, and thus partially or fully protected from expensive new regulations.
For one thing, an ideal climate policy would drive the rapid replacement of existing coal plants with renewable sources of energy. For another, coal plants that were given free credits in some kind of ‘grandfathering’ system would be pre-existing facilities, built before climate concerns were as acute as they are now. A decent climate policy absolutely needs to prevent the construction of new coal power plants. If someone demonstrates safe, effective, and economical carbon capture and storage, that requirement may relax somewhat but, for the moment, we cannot assume that coal has a place in our next-generation energy mix.
Given the ambitious plans for expansion, the oil sands are much more like new coal plants than like old ones. As such, they should face the same tough rules as new facilities. Special exemptions may serve the short-term interests of some individuals and companies, but allowing the oil sands to develop along their present course is very much against the long-term interests of Canadians.