OTTAWA - Canada can teach the United States some lessons on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Sunday in a blunt rejoinder to recent chiding by the Obama administration on climate change.
Baird told The Canadian Press that the U.S. should actually be following Canada's lead on working to cut back on the use of coal-fired electricity generation.
Baird was responding to U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson who told The Canadian Press separately last week that President Barack Obama's State of the Union address calling for swift action on climate change should also be interpreted as a challenge to Ottawa.
"We adopted the same goals and objectives in terms of climate change … We worked with the Obama administration and harmonized vehicle emission standards, light truck standards," Baird said Sunday in a telephone interview from Lima, Peru.
"We're also taking concrete direct action with respect to dirty, coal fired electricity generation.
"Maybe the United States could join Canada on that file."
Baird was mindful that environmentalists were descending Sunday on Washington for a major protest of Canada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf coast.
Following a similar protest last year, Obama postponed the controversial Keystone decision until after the November presidential election.
The Harper government has for years said it would remain in lockstep with the U.S. on climate change, but Baird said Canada has gone even further on coal.
Baird's defence of Canada's environmental record appears to be part of a renewed initiative by the Harper government to burnish Canada's climate credentials as Keystone's future once again hangs in the balance.
"We're the only country in the world that's committed to getting out of the dirty coal electricity generation business," Baird said.
"These are real meaningful steps that will either meet or even exceed the work that's been done thus far in the United States."
A spokesman for Greenpeace Canada, however, said the federal government was not responsible for the coal generation reductions.
"John Baird shouldn't try to take credit for Ontario's phase out of coal-fired electricity, although environmentalists would welcome federal assistance in making progress in other provinces," Keith Stewart said in an email.
"The reality, however, is that the federal coal regulations delay any serious action until after 2025."
The coal lobby was one of the many interests to which Obama was beholden as he fought for re-election last year. Coal is a major industry in the key swing states in the U.S. Midwest, which Obama counted on to win back the White House.
But the coal lobby now fears that Obama will take a harder line on their industry, now that he is secure in a second term. It points to the omission of coal in his State of the Union address as he touted the possibilities of wind and solar energy alternatives.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been a climate change crusader, was non-committal on the fate of the Keystone project during a joint news conference with Baird in Washington earlier this month.
All Kerry would say is that a decision is coming soon.
Baird reiterated Sunday that the pipeline is good for job creation in the both countries, as well as for weaning the U.S. off of less secure sources of oil in the Arab world and Venezuela, which he visits this coming week.
"They (the U.S.) are our best trading partner, and if you want to create jobs, and you want to have energy security for North America, obviously the pipeline is a central part of that," said Baird.
Environment Minister Peter Kent also said last week that it won't take much work to boost Canada's credibility in the U.S. on climate change.
"We're doing a lot. Our American friends know that.''
But the Harper government is clearly bristling at the messaging coming out of Washington since Obama's re-election, and following last week's State of the Union, on the need to combat climate change.
"We all need to do as much as we can. And that is true in your country and in mine,'' Jacobson told The Canadian Press after the speech.
"Obviously the more that the energy industry — whether it is the oilsands in Canada or the energy industry in the United States, or any place else — the more progress they can make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce their consumption of water, to other environmental consequences, the better off we all are."
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that he sent a follow-up letter to Jacobson on Friday seeking clarification of his comments.
"We, in Canada, do have to do a better job in getting our message out. We have a record on the environment here. It needs to be better. We're working on that," said Wall.
"But we also haven't done a very good job of telling our story."
Wall and 10 Republican governors sent a letter to the White House last month urging Keystone's approval.
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1974 - The New York Times
"Coal - reliable coal - is the solution" to the 1970s oil and gas shortage, claims this 1974 AEP advertisement. AEP argues that Congress should modify the Clean Air Act in order to burn more coal or else the country would experience "galloping unemployment until America is eventually reduced to the hard life."
1974 - The New York Times
This AEP advertisement from 1974 claims power plants will be shut down due to clean air laws, leading to planned blackouts. AEP lobbied for pollution monitoring at ground-level, instead of on top of smokestacks where readings are more accurate. Take note that the U.S. has been monitoring pollution at the top of smokestacks for decades, without rolling blackouts.
1974 - The New York Times
This AEP ad from 1974 declares scrubbers to be "unreliable and unacceptable for electric utility use." AEP criticize scrubbers as "monstrous contraptions" that will "fan the fires of inflation." Take note that the industry now widely embraces and celebrates scrubber technology for U.S. coal plants for effectively reducing air pollution.
1974 - The New York Times
The industry favored tall smokestacks as a cheaper alternative to scrubbers, as illustrated in this 1974 AEP advertisement. Unfortunately, the industry built hundreds of tall stacks, leading to acid rain and pollution increasing to downwind states. AEP characterizes the EPA as "blinded by their distorted and narrow vision of righteousness" for considering pollution monitoring at the top of smokestacks.
1974 - The Washington Post
In order to free us from the "economic grip of the oil-rich Arab nations," AEP states in this 1974 advertisement that we should "dig and put all our coal to work as quickly, cleanly, and efficiently as possible." AEP claims that "Middle East oil countries" will buy out American coal reserves because Federal agencies are obstructing U.S. coal mining and burning.
1976 - The New York Times
This 1976 AEP ad states that "coal is, today, our only energy alternative...The problems generally associated with mining and burning of coal have been solved." AEP believes that coal could "free us from dependence on foreign oil" except for "fanatical environmentalists [who] employ stalling tactics, court actions, legal technicalities." Take note that the U.S. did not run out of oil reserves or gas reserves in 1988.
1979 - Wall Street Journal
The coal industry has been working to convince the public that coal is clean for decades. This 1979 advertisement from AEP describes a coal "bath [in which] the lighter cleaned coal floats to the top." The tagline states: "Cleaner coal. It will help make the America we see ahead a better America."
1982 - The Washington Post
This 1982 ad from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) states "[acid rain] has become an issue clouded by confusion, misguided blame, misplaced hope." The information booklet offered in this ad was written by Alan Katzenstein, a future tobacco industry PR specialist. EEI claims that conclusions about acid rain and coal pollution are based on "circumstantial evidence" and more facts are necessary before taking action.
This 1991 ad from a coal front group called Information Council on the Environment (ICE) claims that "proof that carbon dioxide has been the primary cause [of global warming] is non-existent." This ad campaign was abandoned after a leaked memo exposed the group's ad strategy to "reposition global warming as theory" rather than fact.
1997 - The New York Times
The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a front group for fossil fuel corporations, ran this 1997 ad saying China, India, Mexico, and Brazil are behind an agreement to "force American families to restrict our use of oil, gasoline, and electricity" without curbing their own emissions. This industry talking point is still obstructing international climate agreements.
2007 - Kansas City Star
In this 2007 ad, the coal front group Kansans for Affordable Energy claims "without new coal-fueled plants, Kansans will be captive to high-priced natural gas, allowing hostile foreign countries to control the energy policy of Kansas and America." The ad was responding to the Kansas state government's decision to deny air quality permits for two coal plants.
2007 - The New York Times
2009 - The Washington Post
This 2009 ad from Peabody Coal states that "the more we use [coal], the less we need to rely on foreign energy." Peabody claims that "eventually, carbon capture and storage will allow plants to recycle the CO2 back underground." Take note that "recycling" in this instance refers to the injection of CO2 as a waste product into geologic formations.