WASHINGTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford and federal Environment Minister Peter Kent converged on Washington on Wednesday, singing the gospel of Canadian environmentalism as the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline raged on.
But after two days of touting her province's carbon levy on industry as the first in North America, Redford poured cold water on reports that her government already has a dollar amount in mind for increasing it. That's in keeping with a Canadian stance that avoids any talk of a grand gesture to help sell the controversial pipeline from the oilsands to the Gulf Coast.
Redford and Kent were both asked about the Washington rumour mill that has President Barack Obama's administration seeking some political cover — a quid pro quo — from Canada in return for approving the $7-billion pipeline.
Kent was asked by one American reporter if Canada was being "out-wowed" on the Keystone debate by vocal environmentalists.
"If you suggest there is any 'out-wowing,' an awful lot of it is based on a lack of facts and poor science," Kent said at the Canadian embassy.
"The reality is we are working in alignment with the U.S. to achieve similar GHG emission reductions by 2020."
Redford also refused to hint at any looming Canadian offers, instead repeatedly highlighting that Alberta's carbon tax was the first in North America.
However the existing $15-per-tonne carbon tax on large emitters that don't meet a 12 per cent intensity reduction target has been criticized in some quarters as being too low, and Redford's government has acknowledged the levy may need to be raised.
Recent leaked reports suggest Alberta could move to a 40 per cent intensity reduction target with penalties of $40 per tonne.
Redford warned that no one should presume that will be the final target.
"What we're seeing right now is a lot of discussion about a lot of options about how to renew a climate change strategy. I know there have been reports that that's somehow a magic number," she said Wednesday. "In our minds it's not."
Both Redford and Kent maintain Canada doesn't have an environmental black eye, but simply needs to better educate Americans about Canadian policies.
"From my perspective this is an Alberta story, but it's also a Canadian story and I think Americans understand that," Redford told reporters.
Kent called it a "happy coincidence" that he was in Washington at the same time as Redford pitching a green message.
But the optics of Alberta pitching its carbon tax as a Keystone selling point while Ottawa bashes any notion of putting a price on carbon have been jarring in the U.S. capital.
Conservative MPs have made a daily sport out of pointedly mocking anything that resembles a price on carbon, calling such schemes "a tax on everything" that Conservatives would never embrace.
But in an interview, Kent said he and Redford are on the same page.
"We're on the same wavelength, going in the same direction."
Redford's initiatives reflect Ottawa's willingness to let provinces decide in their own way how they will meet national targets for emissions reductions, Kent said.
The federal government is not against carbon pricing, Kent said. Rather, it is speaking out about schemes that take taxpayers' money in the name of fighting climate change and put that money into general revenues.
"I'm saying that carbon taxes where the taxes go into general revenues, as the NDP's would, for social engineering, not for the reduction of (greenhouse gases), that's something we would consider to be ... unworthy," he said.
The global debate about how to reduce carbon has not really taken a hard look at how effective carbon taxes are in actually cutting emissions, he added.
Greenpeace put out a release Wednesday questioning a number of Redford's recent environmental assertions.
It noted that Corporate Knights and the David Suzuki Foundation have both ranked Alberta poorly among the provinces when it comes to environmental stewardship generally and climate policy specifically.
Under current legislation, Alberta's industrial facilities are required to reduce their "carbon intensity" — emissions per unit of production — by 12 per cent a year. The $15-per-tonne levy applies only to carbon that exceeds what the facility would have emitted had it met the intensity target.
Groups such as the Pembina Institute suggest the levy actually works out to less than a couple of dollars per tonne averaged over a facility's entire carbon output. Companies that exceed their carbon allowance can also buy carbon offsets such as wind power to make up the difference. Some of those offsets cost as little as $8 a tonne.
Wednesday marked the final day of Redford's two-day trip to the U.S. capital.
Kent will spend the next few days meeting with other ministers from major emitting countries. They are discussing the best way to forge a global pact to reduce emissions over the long term and also hope to come up with ideas soon about how to finance those efforts in developing countries.
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