03/05/2013 02:05 EST | Updated 05/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Keystone XL Pipeline: Canadian Politicians In U.S. To Press For Approval


WASHINGTON - Less than a week after the U.S. State Department all but dismissed the climate concerns dogging TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, two high-profile Canadian politicians headed stateside on Tuesday to push once again for presidential approval of the controversial project.

The pipeline pitch from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver contained a nugget of news for his American audience as he assured them that long-awaited federal regulations on Canada's oil and gas sector were on the horizon.

"Canada is one of the only major suppliers of crude oil to the Gulf Coast taking concrete action to fight climate change with provincial — and soon to be federal — regulatory requirements affecting its oil and gas sector," he told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

"Once the federal regulations are in place, Canada will be one of a very few oil producers in the world with national binding regulations on its oil and gas sector."

Oliver's comments came shortly after his cabinet colleague, Environment Minister Peter Kent, said the government is aiming to have those federal regulations ready by mid-year.

"We're in the final stages now of setting the stringency levels, and I would hope that certainly by mid-year we would be in a position to share those," he told a House of Commons committee.

The new regulations would seek to curb the sector's greenhouse gas emissions in order for Canada to meet a 2020 target for a 17 per cent cut in overall emissions. Rules are already in place for the transportation and coal-fired electricity industries, but they only take Canada halfway to that goal.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, meantime, began a four-day visit to the U.S. capital that includes meetings with several top officials, including Kerri-Ann Jones, an assistant secretary of state on international environmental affairs, and Eric Cantor, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wall, too, will urge Americans to approve the pipeline. But he'll also tout his province's green initiatives, in particular its recent $1.4-billion investment in a clean-coal project in Estevan, Sask.

"That's about $1,400 per man, woman and child," Wall said last week. "I'm not sure of another jurisdiction in North America that can make that claim."

Canadian officials are in the midst of a full court press in the United States as the White House inches closer to a decision on Keystone XL after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's original permit application last year.

A month after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met with Secretary of State John Kerry to push for Keystone XL approval, Oliver also travels to Texas on Wednesday to address an energy conference.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford was in D.C. making her own Keystone sales pitch to 19 state governors late last month, switching gears from emphasizing the economic benefits of the pipeline to focusing on Canada's green initiatives.

That pivot has been made necessary by the success of U.S. environmentalists in portraying the pipeline as a symbol of "dirty oil." They've also relentlessly maligned the oilsands as a "carbon bomb" that jeopardizes the health of the planet.

Redford told the governors Alberta was doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the carbon-intensive oilsands, pointing out that it's the only North American jurisdiction to tax heavy emitters. Critics, however, have long insisted that oilsands development is outpacing those measures.

The ball is now in Obama's court following last week's State Department environmental assessment. A decision isn't expected, however, until the summer.

In their draft analysis — a final report will be tabled after a 45-day public comment period — State Department officials determined that Keystone XL would not contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, nor would it spur further oilsands development.

Oliver pointed to the State Department report as he urged Americans to listen to the "facts" on the pipeline, asserting that Alberta's oilsands contribute only 0.1 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Why then all the fuss? Why the demonstrations and movie stars chaining themselves to the White House gate?" he asked.

"The answer is that some environmental and other groups see this as a symbolic issue in their larger battle against the development of hydrocarbons and specifically the oilsands. In a democratic society, they are entitled to their views, but not to take liberties with the truth."

He also backed up the State Department's finding that Canada will find other markets for its oil, with or without Keystone XL.

"Let there be no doubt: Our future is not tied to any one pipeline. Canada will continue to develop its oilsands and seek out new customers," he said, including "growing markets in Asia."

Later Tuesday, Oliver met with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's one-time chief of staff, but denied in a subsequent conference call with reporters that the visit was due to the mayor's close association with the president.

He also visited a pipefitters training centre earlier in the day, telling workers that Canadian oil is supporting jobs on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

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