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Members of Congress Press U.S. Trade Rep on Tar Sands Policy

Washington, D.C. – As the Obama Administration considers the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline application, Members of the House and Senate today renewed an inquiry into reports of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) efforts to influence European tar sands policy.   

In December 2013, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and several other Members of Congress sent a letter to the Office of the USTR asking whether it had pressed European Union (EU) representatives to alter a proposed Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) that would discourage the use of high-emission fuels like tar sands oil. 

In light of recent reports, based on internal EU documents, that U.S. diplomats raised “substantive concerns” about the proposed fuel directive, Whitehouse and ten other Members today requested further clarification of USTR’s engagement and position on the FQD.  

“We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” the lawmakers wrote, “and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.”

In addition to Senator Whitehouse, the letter was signed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); and Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is below.

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July 9, 2014

 

Ambassador Michael Froman

Office of the United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20508

Dear Ambassador Froman:

On December 20, 2013, we sent you a letter expressing concerns about reports that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) had pressed the European Commission to alter its proposed treatment of tar sands crude oil in the European Commission’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), which aims to reduce carbon pollution from motor vehicle fuels.  Your response, dated February 14, 2014, acknowledged that USTR had raised concerns about the EU process for developing regulations, but also stated “USTR is not pressing the European Commission for any particular treatment of crude oil under the FQD.”

Recent reporting[1] suggests that U.S. authorities did formally express to the EU Directorate-General for Energy (DG Energy) substantive concerns about the FQD proposal and its treatment of different types of crude oil.  An internal DG Energy email, released through a formal information request, summarizes an October 2013 meeting between DG Energy and a “US Mission” regarding the FQD.  It states that the US Mission informed DG Energy that U.S. authorities had “substantive concerns about the existing proposal (the singling out of two crudes – Canada and Venezuela).”

If this reporting is accurate, we remain concerned that official U.S. trade negotiations could undercut the EU’s commendable efforts to reduce carbon pollution.  A policy that does not differentiate among different types of crude oils is less effective at reducing carbon pollution, as it would lump all types of oil from different sources into the same category, regardless of differences in their greenhouse gas intensities.

Given the importance of the issues at stake, we seek further clarification from USTR on this matter.  We request that you provide more detail on USTR’s engagement with the European Commission on the substance of the FQD, including a response to the following questions:

Does USTR acknowledge that crude oils of different types and produced from different sources vary in their greenhouse gas intensity?

Does USTR agree that a policy, if effective, that encourages the use of crude oils with lower greenhouse gas intensity relative to crude oils with higher greenhouse gas intensity is likely to reduce carbon pollution?

How, specifically, has USTR engaged with the European Commission on the substance of the FQD?

What specific concerns and recommendations has USTR expressed to the European Commission on this matter? 

Does the October 2013 email referenced in the article cited here accurately represent a position taken by the United States during negotiations over the FQD?  If so, please explain how that position is consistent with your February 14, 2014, statement that the “USTR is not pressing the European Commission for any particular treatment of crude oil under the FQD.” 

Has USTR taken a position during T-TIP or WTO negotiations with the EU on differential treatment of crude oil by source or country of origin?  If so, has the position changed over time?

We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.

Sincerely,

 

Sheldon Whitehouse                                                   Peter DeFazio

United States Senator                                                 Member of Congress

  

Barbara Boxer                                                             Anna G. Eshoo

United States Senator                                                 Member of Congress

  

Elizabeth Warren                                                        Sam Farr

United States Senator                                                 Member of Congress

 

Edward J. Markey                                                      Barbara Lee    

United States Senator                                                 Member of Congress

                   

Raúl M. Grijalva                                                         Judy Chu                   

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

                        

Alan Lowenthal                                                         

Member of Congress


[1] Arthur Neslen, First Tar Sands Shipment to Europe Sparks Protests, Euractiv (June 2, 2014), http://www.euractiv.com/sections/energy/first-tar-sands-shipment-europe-sparks-protests-302524.

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