First Nation and Environmental Leaders in Washington to Discuss New Reality of Canadian Majority Government with U.S. Tar Sands Decision-Makers

Delegation to discuss concerns with Obama administration and Congress; continue to urge rejection of Keystone XL pipeline WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 26, 2011) - A delegation of environmental groups and First Nation Chiefs are in Washington today to meet with the Obama administration and Congress to discuss the new political reality of Canada’s majority government days before the new government begins sitting.

“The Mikisew Cree First Nation have serious concerns related to development of the oil sands including contamination of our waters, our land, and repeated infringements to our constitutionally protected Treaty Rights,” said Chief Roxanne Marcel of the Mikisew Cree First Nation. “We are not opposed to development of the oil sands, what we are opposed to is the irresponsible management and unsustainable development of the oil sands, and this has been the record of the Alberta and Canadian governments in managing the rapid pace of development that is occurring in Alberta.”

“The tar sands are now a global concern, and the pressure will keep building for the new majority government in Canada,” said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence. “Political leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere will be watching closely to see if tar sands impacts continue to be glossed over or if real changes are made.”

The delegation is in D.C. to urge the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands because it will lead to tar sands expansion which would bring increased toxic waste, carbon pollution and destruction of land that would impact First Nations and the environment in Canada. The U.S. government is currently considering a revised Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline, but it does not include the impacts of expanded tar sands production in Canada.

“The Canadian and Alberta governments have not yet determined key air, land, water and climate thresholds when it comes to the tar sands, and the anticipated pace and scale of growth there is just going to add pressure. We think that these upstream impacts must be addressed for any additional tar sands pipeline capacity to be added,” said Ed Whittingham of the Pembina Institute.

“We are here to ensure the Obama administration and U.S. officials fully understand the views and concerns of First Nations regarding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and other major projects,” stated Regional Chief Erasmus. “First Nations are often the first to feel the impacts of projects in our territories and we have a right to be heard and involved in the planning of any such projects. There are First Nations along all points of the proposed pipeline and Dene people and communities downstream of the Mackenzie River Basin who will be affected by any pipeline problems that occur upstream of the Basin. We are calling on the Canadian and U.S. governments to respect the standard of free, prior and informed consent of First Nations in any projects, consistent with standards established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent recently said that regulations will be developed this year to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, however that an “accommodation period” will apply. Two senior Cabinet ministers in the new government have been tasked with promoting oil sands abroad.

“Oil companies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to Canadian federal energy policy, and as a result Canada is trailing other industrialized countries when it comes to taking action on climate change,” says Graham Saul of Climate Action Network Canada. “Prime Minister Harper has made it clear that he will go to great lengths to ensure no door is closed to the Alberta tar sands, including lobby efforts to insulate them from more stringent regulations imposed by other countries.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact: Danielle Droitsch, Pembina Institute, 202.615.3770 Gillian McEachern, Environmental Defence, 613.292.4416