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WASHINGTON — Meet the people on the winning side of Canada’s oil discount — the U.S. environmental activists who have wreaked havoc in the oil sands industry by trashing its practices and shutting it out of new markets by stalling proposed pipelines such as Keystone XL.
They include Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Danielle Droitsch, Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which bills itself as the United States’ most effective environmental action group backed by 350 lawyers; and Jason Kowalski and Ben Wesser, with 350.org, a grassroots organization that uses protests and social media to stop climate change.
They are uncompromising, empowered and feel good about their progress in capping the growth of fossil fuels — particularly those from Canada.
Agree with them or not, their record is astonishing: They have outmanoeuvred the powerful oil lobby and stalled the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas; they have managed to blame emissions from oil sands’ fuels for U.S. climate disasters such as Super Storm Sandy; and they believe they are on the cusp of strangling oil sands growth.
In interviews in the slick downtown Washington base of the NRDC, the activists were unapologetic about the distress their campaign is causing in Canada — and particularly in Alberta, where pipeline bottlenecks are depressing the price of oil, cutting into company revenues and forcing provincial budget cuts.
“The economic distress that we see right now is nothing compared to the economic distress that we will see in the future from the impacts of climate change,” said Ms. Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the international program at the NRDC.
“The lesson to take away with what is happening with the shortfalls in Alberta is that diversification of the economy is critical … the way forward in terms of our economic and national security is building a world where we depend on clean energy.”
Their energy answer for Alberta? Forget the petrostate and switch to wind.
Never mind that Canada is a sovereign country with the right to make its own decisions.
“This is not an issue of borders anymore,” she said. “And we are seeing that with a lot of our environmental work. Most of the environmental problems are global challenges. And that is why we work so closely with colleagues in Canada.”
How did groups like NRDC, 350.org, and their close partners the Sierra Club, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, become so powerful they believe they alone have the right answers on the climate and on energy?
James Vines, a partner in Washington at King & Spalding LLP, a top law and lobby firm representing major international energy players, said environmental organizations have been empowered by deep pockets and the U.S. legal system, which provides many avenues that allow private parties to challenge energy project.
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