EDMONTON – One of the most prominent and recognizable critics in the United States of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is coming to Alberta to have a look at the oilsands for himself.
Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he doesn’t expect the visit to change his opinion.
“We’ve looked at the impacts of the tar sands internationally and in the United States and I want to learn as much as I can about benefits tar sands might bring to Canada,” Kennedy told The Canadian Press from his New York office.
“But it’s hard for me to imagine that I would see a benefit that would make me change my mind on the tar sands.”
Kennedy, bearer of one of the most famous names in American political and cultural history, said he’s coming at the invitation of environmentalists and aboriginals. Both groups have expressed concerns about the effect of oilsands development on the Athabasca River and on human health.
Kennedy is to be in Alberta over the Canada Day long weekend and is to spend time in Fort McMurray and the aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan.
A meeting is also being arranged with at least one oilsands producer, he said.
Kennedy is president of the Waterkeepers Alliance, an international environmental organization concerned with the health of rivers. It has nine branches in Canada including one in Alberta. He’s also senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been one of the Keystone pipeline proposal’s most determined critics.
Kennedy was arrested earlier this year at the White House during a protest against a proposal by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) for a $5.4-billion pipeline that would carry 700,000 barrels of bitumen daily from the oilsands through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
His visit will be the latest in a string of oilsands pilgrimages by high-profile critics, including Hollywood director James Cameron and actress Neve Campbell. Late NDP Leader Jack Layton famously criticized the industry after a single flyover, a stance later moderated in a careful and diplomatic visit by his successor Thomas Mulcair.
Those visitors were all born in Canada. But Kennedy said he’s got plenty of Canuck cred.
“I spend probably 20 per cent of my professional life in Canada working on Canadian issues, including issues of transboundary pollution, where U.S. polluters are polluting Canadian resources,” he said. “My father and mother met on the slopes of Mont-Tremblant (in Quebec).”
Besides, he said, the oilsands — one of the most carbon-intensive sources of oil in the world — are a global issue.
“Pollution does not have frontiers. And this particular pollution from carbon impacts the globe. It’s going to hurt people in Canada. It’s going to hurt people in the United States and it’s going to hurt people who live everywhere on the planet.”
His group doesn’t single out the oilsands for particular attention, he said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who has done more to try and stop pollution from coal plants in the United States than (the Natural Resources Defense Council) … We are doing everything we can right now to shut down the coal industry in the United States.”
Kennedy believes that once environmental costs are factored in, the oilsands are a bad investment.
“All the energy producers should have to internalize their costs,” he said. “They shouldn’t be able to force the public to pay their costs of production through health impacts, through global warming impacts, through pipeline spills. If I was somehow convinced that this was a cheaper form of energy than what is available to Canada and the United States I would endorse it.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers declined comment on Kennedy’s visit.