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Eco-hero Tim DeChristopher convicted

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Earthgauge interview with Tim DeChristopher

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising given the powerful interests at play, but last week the environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was found guilty of violating an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false representation stemming from a botched oil and gas auction in 2008. DeChristopher now faces sentencing, which could include up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

His crime? Almost three years ago, DeChristopher went to an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development in Utah. The leases were approved in the dying days of the Bush II administration, despite the fact that the land in question bordered Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.

Posing as a bidder, DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.

Despite the fact that officials in the Obama administration subsequently canceled leases on 77 parcels from the auction, effectively agreeing that the auction should never have gone ahead, DeChristopher was nonetheless being prosecuted, and now convicted, for his actions.

“We know now that I will go to prison,” he said following the verdict.  “We know now that’s the reality, but that’s the job I have to do. … If we are going to achieve our vision, many after me will have to join me as well.”

In the face of overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change, no one has ever been charged for polluting the atmosphere, yet now we are sending a man to prison for taking action to prevent oil and gas development from taking place. I think Bill McKibben puts in best in this article in Grist.

“So far, no bankers have been charged, despite the unmitigated greed that nearly brought the world economy down. No coal or oil execs have been charged, despite fouling the entire atmosphere and putting civilization as we know it at risk.

But engage in creative protest that mildly disrupts the efficient sell-off of our landscape to oil and gas barons? As Tim DeChristopher found out on Thursday, that’ll get you not just a week in court, but potentially a long stretch in the pen.

If you’re outraged by what happened to Tim, and if you’re inspired, make sure to follow the group he’s helped found, Peaceful Uprising. And if you’re thinking about laying it on the line, give us your name at ClimateDirectAction.org.”

And in this article in the Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers argues that DeChristopher deserves the medal of freedom. Click here to read the speech Tim delivered after his sentence was handed down. To lend your support, visit DeChristopher’s website Bidder70.org.

I interviewed Tim a few months ago, before his trial had begun. In light of recent developments, I am posting this interview once again. Just click the audio player above or right click here to download the mp3 file.

WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices | The Guardian.

“The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.”

If you ever wonder why tar sands developments in northern Alberta are moving full speed ahead despite the pollution, carbon emissions, health impacts and all the bad publicity, check out this article from The Guardian about Saudi Arabia’s diminishing oil supplies.

The Alberta government and its federal conservative brethren in Ottawa under Stephen Harper know perfectly well that, as traditional oil supplies diminish, the demand for unconventional oil such as the tar sands will only skyrocket in the coming years. There is an absolute fortune to be made from dirty tar sands crude and the U.S. needs it more than ever. If our current political and corporate leaders have their way, nothing and no one will get in the way of the ongoing, rapacious expansion of the tar sands.

Categories: Energy, Oil Tags: , , ,

Canadian diplomats fight to keep tar sands oil “a-flowin”

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Interview with Danielle Droitsch of the Pembina Institute

It’s good to know our tax dollars are paying Canadian diplomats to fight the good fight in Washington on behalf of those hard-luck oil companies working in Alberta’s tar sands. Postmedia news is reporting that our diplomats have quietly asked oil-industry players such as Exxon Mobil and BP to help “kill” U.S. global-warming policies in order to ensure that “the oil keeps a-flowing” from Alberta into the U.S. marketplace.

Apparently unaware of either the climate change crisis or the exceedingly high levels of greenhouse gases emanating from the tar sands, the officials proposed instead to “kill any interpretation” of American energy legislation that would apply to the tar sands industry. “We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing,” wrote Jason Tolland, from the Canadian Embassy in an exchange of emails with government trade lawyers Feb. 8, 2008.

The correspondence reveals that the Canadian diplomats had contacted officials from the American Petroleum Institute – an industry association – as well as from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Encana Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. One email sent by Paul Connors, who at the time was an energy counsellor at the embassy, encouraged an official with Exxon Mobil to get involved in the political debate against the legislation.

The correspondence was released to the Pembina Institute who obtained it through an access-to-information request.

To find out more about this, I spoke with Danielle Droitsch, the Director of U.S. policy for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian not-for-profit think tank focused on developing innovative sustainable energy solutions. We also discussed the shifting political ground in the United States. With the Republican Party taking control of the House of Representatives this week, what does this mean for climate change policy in North America?

In his first two years on the job, President Obama has thus far failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Now his administration wants to introduce regulations to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Upon taking office, Obama directed the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that will raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks to 35-miles per gallon by 2020 (6.7 litres per 100 km) from the current 27-mpg standard. Last year, Canada followed suit, issuing guidelines for 2011 model year vehicles that are identical to the U.S. CAFE standards.

And just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules requiring all new industrial plants or major expansions to acquire permits for emitting carbon dioxide and other GHGs. The Obama administration has also announced plans to impose new emission rules on power plants and refineries.

Back here in Canada, the former Environment Minister, John Baird, indicated this week that Canada would not adopt a similar approach but will broadly match the U.S. regulatory approach. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long indicated that Canada would harmonize emissions reductions efforts with the U.S. Now that the Obama administration is taking measures to regulate industrial emissions, what will the Harper government do? Was all the talk of harmonization simply empty rhetoric or will we see some action at long last? Time will tell.

And will Obama even be able to push through the proposed new regulations? The new Republican House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated that one of his party’s top priorities for the coming session will be to block the new EPA regulations however they can.

In my interview with Danielle Droitsch, she discusses what lies ahead for U.S. and Canadian climate policy given the recent political shifts.

Indigenous perspectives on the Alberta tar sands

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Click the audio player to hear the first in a series of special Earthgauge podcasts produced for CKUT radio.

The first episode looks at the tar sands of northern Alberta from the perspective of the people who are most directly affected by these massive industrial projects: namely, the First Nations communities living in the region. These are the communities of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray and Fort McKay First Nations and the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation.

For this podcast, I spoke with several individuals who are familiar with the impacts the tar sands projects are having on First Nations communities: Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network; Inuit activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier; Shannon Walsh, director of the documentary H2Oil; and Dr. John O’Connor, the former physician in the community of Fort Chipewyan.

What do these First Nations communities think of having the largest industrial development on Earth in their own backyard? Some are dependent on the jobs and income that the tar sands have created. Others are angry about the severe health and environmental impacts their communities have suffered. And now they want justice.

To download the podcast, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.

Europe and the tar sands

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s been a lot of talk about the Alberta tar/oil sands of late (and deservedly so). Hollywood director James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) recently paid a visit to the Athabasca region to witness the devastation for himself – and to talk with various political and petroleum industry leaders. [Aside: could the Ed Stalmach government of Alberta be any friendlier to the oil industry in Alberta? It’s as if they speak with one voice. Governments surely want to create a business friendly environment but isn’t it also their responsibility to ensure that human health and the environment are protected?]

Following his visit, Cameron, who is Canadian, ended up saying the oil/tar sands will become a curse for Canada without science-based regulations. His visit followed on the heels of other high-profile visits from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham was so enamored with the beauty of open pit oil mines and devastated landscapes, he has since gone on to introduce a pro-Alberta oil sands bill in the U.S. Senate that would ensure unrestricted flow to United States.

Meanwhile, European Union MPs in Brussels have been debating a motion to classify the oil sands as a high-emissions fuel in the EU’s fuel quality directive that promotes use of greener energy. Not surprisingly, the Canadian government, in yet another nod to the beloved petroleum industry, is challenging the EU ruling in the World Trade Organization.

The EU vote has been put on hold for the time being but one thing is for sure: the issue of what to do about Canada’s tar sands is heating up as both sides become more and more entrenched. We surely haven’t heard the end of this story.

Categories: Energy, Oil Tags: , ,

Surprise! Tar sands are toxic after all

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Earthgauge exclusive interview with Dr. John O’Connor – former physician in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan

It’s hard to believe that an exhaustive study was necessary but it seems the Alberta tar sands are indeed producing elevated levels of toxins in the local environment. David Schindler, the lead author of the study released 3 weeks ago, studied river water upstream and downstream of oil sands operations. It found higher than normal levels of priority pollutant metals, including lead and mercury, which are both neurotoxins.

Last week, Mr. Schindler and commercial fishermen showed off diseased, discoloured, disfigured fish caught in Lake Athabasca, downstream of the oil sands. One fish had a tumour the size of a golf ball. Another was missing part of its spine.

Read more…

Interview with Tim DeChristopher

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

The May/June 2010 issue of E Magazine features a cover story with Tim DeChristopher – a 28 year-old activist from Utah who is facing a possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison and fines up to $750,000. His crime? In 2008, DeChristopher went to an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development. The leases were approved in the dying days of the Bush II administration, despite the fact that the land in question bordered Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.

Posing as a bidder, DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.

Despite the fact that officials in the Obama administration subsequently canceled leases on 77 parcels from the Utah auction, effectively agreeing that the auction should never have gone ahead, DeChristopher is nonetheless being prosecuted for his actions. His trial date is to begin in September in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. For his part, DeChristopher (who has subsequently become recognized as something of an environmental cult hero) says he has no desire to go to jail but he would do the same thing again given the chance.

With this action, Bidder 70, as DeChristopher has become known, represents what seems to be a resurgence in direct action environmental protest, which was such a hallmark of the movement in years gone by but seems to have fallen by the wayside for environmental organizations who have chosen negotiation and compromise as their strategy of choice in recent years.

As we careen toward potentially catastrophic climate change, could this and other such actions represent the beginning of a return to a more radical form of environmental activism? Click the audio player below to hear my interview with DeChristopher for CKUT radio. He explains what exactly he did and what motivated him to do it. He also discusses the legal consequences of his protest action and the new organization he has subsequently founded called Peaceful Uprising.

To download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save As’ or ‘Save Target As’.

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