DeSmog

Pathways Alliance Website Scrubbed Ahead of New Greenwashing Law

The oil sands lobby group deleted the contents of its site in anticipation of changes to the Competition Act.
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Pathways ad
A Pathways Alliance ad recently removed from YouTube. Credit: Pathways Alliance YouTube

Pathways Alliance, a coalition of Canadian tar sands producers aiming to build a massive carbon capture project in Alberta, scrubbed their website of its content June 19. 

In its place is a notice indicating the organization “removed content from our website, social media and other public communications” and that they had done so in response to anticipated changes coming with Bill C-59.

C-59, officially the Fall Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2023, is an omnibus bill working its way through Canada’s parliament. According to Leah Temper of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), the “greenwashing” amendments proposed for the Competition Act came about through a public consultation held in the spring of 2023. CAPE, along with other Canadian environmental groups such Ecojustice, Equiterre and the Quebec Environmental Law Center, worked together on the proposed greenwashing amendments over the last year and a half.

Within it is a proposed amendment to the Competition Act that would disallow deceptive marketing practices with respect to “greenwashing” claims. Specifically, any person or organization that makes a representation to the public in the form of a statement, warranty or guarantee of a product’s benefits for protecting the environment or mitigating the environmental and ecological effects of climate change that is not based on an adequate and proper test, could be considered misleading the public. 

The amendment calls for monetary penalties in such cases. The bill is set to pass this week.

Bill C-59’s proposed amendments were criticized by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith last week in a discussion about the Canadian Energy Centre — also called the energy war room — which announced its closure on June 11. Speaking at the Global Energy Show in Calgary, Smith falsely stated Bill C-59 “is trying to make it illegal to celebrate and talk about our industry” and that she wasn’t sure whether the Canadian Energy Centre would be “allowed to talk about these things,” but also that the proposed legislation granted Alberta an exemption.

The Pathways Alliance is a marketing and lobbying organization representing the country’s six largest oil sands producers: Imperial Oil, Suncor, ConocoPhillips, Cenovus, CNRL and MEG.

As previously reported by DeSmog, Canada’s competition bureau was already investigating the Pathways Alliance for alleged misleading advertising before the Bill C-59 amendments. Greenpeace Canada alleged in a complaint submitted to the Competition Bureau in March of 2023 that Pathway has made false and misleading claims. 

Pathways orchestrated a national media blitz that included a large number of advertisements placed on public transit. Ads appearing on buses, as an example, stated “our net zero plan is in motion.” DeSmog has also reported that Pathways Alliance has paid Google to advertise on greenwashing searches.

The notice left by Pathways on their website argues C-59 “will create significant uncertainty for Canadian companies that want to communicate publicly about the work they are doing to improve their environmental performance, including to address climate change.”

However, the bill’s wording clearly states that if a company wants to make environmental claims about a given product or service, it should be able to back these claims with “an adequate and proper test.” Speaking generally about a given company or organization’s environmental interests or hopes to reduce emissions would be unlikely to be considered false or misleading statements.

But some statements may be considered misleading if they could not be proven by a reasonable test. Statements that previously appeared on Pathways’ website — which are accessible via the Internet Archive — include:

  • Let’s clear the air
  • The path to net zero begins with carbon capture and storage
  • Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is a key part of the Pathways Alliance plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from oil sands operations. It’s a proven, reliable process that is being used around the world
  • CCS helps address climate change by preventing CO2 created by industrial activities from entering the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to the conditions that cause climate change.

There is considerable and mounting evidence that the only practical application of CCS is continued oil production, through a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). EOR was the first application of CCS, and was developed over 50 years ago. A recent DeSmog report revealed that some Canadian oil operations have only managed to continue operating because of CCS, and that they would have ceased operations entirely a decade ago otherwise. 

“Canadian companies who are walking their climate talk need not worry about changes to Bill C-59,” said Nola Poirier, senior researcher at Greenpeace Canada. 

“This law will merely ensure that companies do not make false environmental claims. However, the Pathways Alliance does have reason to worry. Already the Competition Bureau is investigating the Pathways Alliance to determine whether they have contravened the Competition Act by making false or misleading environmental representations,” said Poirier in a statement to DeSmog.

“For too long fossil fuel companies have been able to greenwash their products and actions. We look forward to strong laws that put an end to false environmental claims and hold companies accountable when they aren’t telling the truth.” According to one public health expert, CCS is the oil and gas industry’s equivalent of Big Tobacco’s promise of safer cigarettes from generations ago

Pathways’ statement further indicates that the organization believes it has a “key role to play in reducing environmental impacts of oil sands production including helping Canada reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, while also supporting a vibrant economy and providing Canadians with secure access to affordable energy.” 

Pathways Alliance did not immediately respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

emily-and-taylor-101
Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian.

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