04/25/2013 01:14 EDT | Updated 06/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Nanos Number: Merging environment and energy policy

Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC Power & Politics host Evan Solomon to get to the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: Is the future of any successful energy policy linked to the environment?

Debate over the Keystone XL pipeline continues in Washington.

This week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed in again, saying the U.S. State Department's analysis of the project is "insufficient." The review prompted TransCanada, the company behind the project, to hit back, warning the EPA that it is overstepping its boundaries.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was also in Washington again this week, trying to drum up support for the pipeline project before the Obama administration makes a final decision on its fate.

Polls show the majority of both Canadians and Americans support the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to Nanos.

But Nanos says more focus is needed on how the environment relates to the future of energy policy.

The first part of a research study Nanos is doing with the Woodrow Wilson Center looks at Canadian and American attitudes towards environmental policy and how those feelings might be a factor, regardless of the decision made on the Keystone XL.

The report looks at a number of factors, including Canadian and American views on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, 56 per cent thought reducing greenhouse gas emissions was important and 22 per cent thought it was somewhat important, while 5 per cent said it was somewhat unimportant, 11 per cent said it was unimportant and 5 per cent were unsure.

By comparison, the Canadian survey found 47 per cent saying it was important and 27 per cent somewhat important, while 9 per cent said it was somewhat unimportant, 14 per cent said it was unimportant and 4 per cent were unsure.

The findings are based on a Nanos America, random telephone survey of 1,007 Americans conducted March 28-April 7, 2013 and a Random RDD Nanos Crowdsource Survey of 1,013 Canadians conducted April 6-9, 2013. Both are accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Canadians and Americans were also asked whether they would support having common Canada-U.S. environmental standards and the majority of respondents on both sides of the border supported the idea.

Environmental standards

Forty-two per cent of Canadians thought having common Canada-U.S. environmental standards was important and 36 per cent said it was somewhat important. That compares to 64 per cent of Americans who thought common environmental standards were important and 22 per cent who said they are somewhat important.

In light of these new numbers, Nanos points out that the Keystone XL project should be seen as an opportunity.

"It's an opportunity because it has put a spotlight on the energy partnership between Canada and the United States. It's also put a spotlight in terms of the environmental record of Canada and also ... the environmental direction that Barack Obama wants to move in."

Nanos said the key takeaway from these numbers for the Canadian government is that Canadians and Americans are expecting environmental and energy policy to be folded in together, and that opens up new policy opportunities.

"Maybe we should be starting a dialogue with the Americans about a framework, a common framework in terms of the energy strategy for the continent but also the environmental strategy," Nanos suggested.

Cost and opportunity

Environmental policies can also come at a political cost. Especially when talk of a carbon tax or polluter-pay system comes up.

But Nanos said that both the government and opposition "have to think of energy and environmental policy as one. They have to think of it in terms of how can we have a strategy that builds prosperity for Canada and the United States."

Canada and the United States have had close relations on environmental policies in the past, including the Air Quality Agreement to help address air pollution linked to acid rain, water management and free trade, so "why isn't there some type of co-operation or a more co-ordinated strategy in terms of energy," Nanos asked.

Americans and Canadians see that energy projects represent a significant economic opportunity and want government to "get [its] act together," Nanos said.

"Let's have a strategy that takes advantage of these resources in an environmentally friendly way," Nanos said.

Recognized as one of Canada's top research experts, Nik Nanos provides numbers-driven counsel to senior executives and major organizations. He leads the analyst team at Nanos, is a fellow of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, a research associate professor with SUNY (Buffalo) and a 2013 public policy scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.