Former oil exec to be clean-energy envoy
By Glen McGregor
The Harper government has named a former oil and gas industry executive who led a company active in the Alberta oilsands as a representative on a United States-Canada working group on clean energy.
Charlie Fischer, who until recently served as president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based Nexen Inc., will head up one of three working groups with U.S. counterparts as part of the Clean Energy Dialogue, Environment Minister Jim Prentice has confirmed.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to set up the working groups after a meeting in Ottawa with U.S. President Barack Obama, promising the two countries would co-operate on developing new ways to combat climate change.
However, only last week, in a response to a question in the House of Commons from a Liberal MP, did the government reveal who would serve as Canadian "envoys" on the groups.
The Sierra Club of Canada says the choice of an oil industry executive as a clean-energy envoy undermines the credibility of the effort.
"Appointing Charlie Fischer sends a clear signal that this is about promoting the tar sands, period," said Stephen Hazell, executive director of the environmental group.
"The government of Canada seems to be coming at this whole clean-energy dialogue from the perspective of how can they get special exemptions for the tar sands industry so that, when a cap-and-trade system is implemented, the tar sands aren't affected."
Hazell allowed that Nexen was among the more progressive of oilsands developers and he said that Fischer himself was "not a Neanderthal. ... It is a company that recognizes it can't go on doing what it's doing."
Fischer, 59, is also listed as a co-chair of Alberta Climate Change Central, an organization that promotes greenhouse gas reduction.
Last December, Nexen upped its participation in the Alberta oilsands with a $735-million investment in the Long Lake project. Fischer retired from the top job at the company at the end of last year. As of December, Fischer held more than 500,000 common shares in Nexen, then worth about $9.5 million, plus options on three million more shares, according to insider disclosure records. (Because he is no longer required to report his trades, his holdings may have changed since then.)
While the exact mandates of working groups are still being developed, Environment Canada says none of the participants will be put in a position of a conflict-of-interest.