Whistler request for Alberta oilsands company to cover climate change expenses causes outrage

Click to play video: 'Whistler wants Alberta oilsands company CNRL to cover climate change costs'
Whistler wants Alberta oilsands company CNRL to cover climate change costs
WATCH ABOVE: The mountain resort town of Whistler, B.C. is asking Alberta energy company CNRL to help pay for the costs of climate change. Alberta provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon explains why – Dec 14, 2018

Whistler has joined several other B.C. municipalities in calling on the oil and gas industry to pay for budget costs covering events related to climate change, and the reaction has not been kind.

In a letter dated Nov. 15 and addressed to Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), Mayor Jack Crompton asked the company to cover the costs being paid by taxpayers to deal with flooding, drought and extreme weather, which Crompton argues are being caused directly by CNRL’s operations.

WATCH: Long-time Whistler resident worries he’ll lose his RV home

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Long-time Whistler resident worries he’ll lose his RV home

“As a town with a population of less than 15,000 people, this is a significant cost to bear along with costs associated with impacts to winter and summer sports tourism,” the letter reads.

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“Your industry is aware that its products have a negative impact on the climate, yet continues to develop new resources.”

Calgary-based energy consultant Terry Etam said in a statement to Global News that industry workers and advocates have been outraged by the letter and feel like they’re being unfairly targeted, as humans also contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

“There is difficulty comprehending how a tourist attraction that not just uses but encourages the use of millions of gallons of fuel and massive emissions can lay blame for those emissions on the entities that provide the fuel,” he said.

At least one company, PrairieSky Royalty Ltd., has withdrawn from the annual CIBC Whistler Institutional Investor Conference to be held in January because of the mayor’s comments, according to an internal email obtained by Global News.

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Whistler mayor reponds

In response to the growing backlash, Crompton released both written and video statements saying he didn’t mean to offend anyone or make any companies or industries feel unwelcome in Whistler. He also acknowledged Etam’s argument that Whistler’s residents and tourists also contribute to fossil fuel emissions.

“Our goal was not to ignore our own role in climate change but to encourage change and action on climate change,” the mayor said.

“We strongly believe that all levels of government, industries and individuals bear responsibility for solving and the costs of climate change impacts.”

Social media users have also pointed out the fact that Crompton made his name as the head of Ridebooker, which offers ground transportation services across North America.

‘Demanding accountability’

The request is part of an ongoing campaign from West Coast Environmental Law that has seen multiple B.C. municipalities write to fossil fuel companies asking for similar compensation, including Victoria, Saanich, Squamish and Castlegar.

The law firm’s website says the campaign is aimed at “demanding accountability.”

CNRL is the only Canadian company targeted by any of the letters so far. Other companies that have received the requests include Chevron, which is based in California, and British Petroleum in London.

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Some of the letters have prompted responses. Shell wrote back to the Town of View Royal’s request in February, while companies representing Chevron replied to the letter sent by the District of Highlands.

Both responses declined to commit funds to covering any municipal costs asked for in the letters, but stated the companies were committed to addressing climate change and highlighted their specific climate strategies.

On Dec. 10, the District of West Vancouver posted an open letter to all fossil fuel companies requesting the same compensation.

The council also sent a letter to Premier John Horgan calling on the provincial government to define the legal consequences for climate change costs and to hold those same companies accountable.

Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said it’s up to local governments to demand compensation for costs incurred by their taxpayers.

“Municipalities are on the front lines of dealing with climate change,” Gage said. “They’re the ones who have to keep us safe from the impacts — build higher seawalls, deal with wildfire interface areas — and they’re the ones who will have to deal with the impacts if there is a wildfire that burns a community down.”

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On Friday, a spokesperson for CNRL shared the letter it sent back to Crompton and the Resort Municipality of Whistler, which calls on the local government to join other municipalities in “supporting market access for Canada’s responsibly developed natural resources and share the facts with others.”

“We know that we still have more that we can do, and by working together, we are confident that the actions we take now can accelerate positive change,” the letter continues.

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