Harper Offers Obama Climate Action for Keystone Approval

Harper Offers Obama Climate Action for Keystone Approval
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month as part of an effort to deal with U.S. concerns about the pipeline, said the person, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to discuss it publicly. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offered to participate in joint efforts with the U.S. to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to win approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Harper sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month as part of an effort to mollify U.S. concerns about the pipeline, said the person, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to discuss it publicly. Environmentalists are urging Obama to reject the pipeline, saying it will contribute to global warming.

The offer from Harper might give Obama an opening to seek accommodations as a way to approve the project while blunting the complaints of increasingly active environmentalists.

“We recognize that climate change is a global issue and we are always willing to work together with other jurisdictions to accomplish common goals,” Diana McQueen, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said in an e-mail. “A North American strategy is important for both Canada and the United States to maintain strong environmental protection, job creation, economic growth and energy security.”

The White House hasn’t responded to Harper’s letter, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Harper’s plan to raise the issue with Obama at the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, yesterday was sidelined by the discussion on Syria, the CBC reported on its website.

An Obama administration official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and asked not to be identified, couldn’t confirm yesterday whether Harper’s letter had been received by the White House.

Georgetown Speech

In June at Georgetown University in Washington, Obama in a speech declared Keystone shouldn’t be approved if it were found to “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. The U.S. State Department is reviewing TransCanada Corp.’s request to build the $5.3 billion link from Alberta’s oil sands to U.S. refineries on the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. State Department referred calls about the letter to the White House. The White House press office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“We do not comment on correspondence between leaders,” Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for Harper, said in an e-mail. “The prime minister raises the job-creating Keystone XL project every time he speaks with the president.”

TransCanada applied in September 2008 to build Keystone. The company changed the route to avoid a sensitive ecosystem in Nebraska after state officials warned of environmental risks.

‘Strong Ambassador’

The State Department said it won’t complete its environmental-impact review until after reviewing and publishing 1.5 million public comments, a months-long process. Mandatory comment periods could push the decision to late this year or early next year.

“We have not seen the letter but as we have said before, the Canadian government has been a strong ambassador for Keystone XL,” said Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada. “As a country, Canada has a great track record on the environment –- and is the only country that the U.S. currently imports oil from that has substantial greenhouse-gas emissions regulations in place.”

“Despite the rhetoric from the professional activists,” Howard said. “Keystone XL will move oil long distances with almost no direct emissions.”

Canada has so far failed to take meaningful action on curbing pollution linked to global warming, according to Clare Demerse, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, a Calgary-based group that supports clean energy.

‘Uniquely Canadian’

“The oil sands is a uniquely Canadian issue,” Demerse said in an interview. “So joint work with the U.S. is not the answer for the oil sands sector, which is the single largest source of the growth in our greenhouse gas pollution. It’s Canada’s responsibility.”

TransCanada has said the pipeline could carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day with 100,000 barrels reserved for the light sweet crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana.

“A key question is whether or not Harper would be amenable to greenhouse gas reductions that would be directly linked to tar sands,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank with close ties to the administration. Only then, Weiss said, would such a plan help meet what Obama has said is a key test the project, he said.

Greenhouse Gas

A March draft environmental impact statement found that the project wouldn’t significantly increase greenhouse-gas emissions because the oil sands would be developed without Keystone, and shipped out through other pipelines or by rail.

Environmental advocates have challenged the State Department conclusion and said no trade-off is possible to compensate for the expansion of production of oil-sands in Alberta.

“Keystone is an expansion project for the tar sands,” Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for the group 350.org, which is leading the fight against the pipeline, said in an e-mail. “There is no deal that would be palatable to us.”

In April, the Globe and Mail in Toronto reported that Alberta’s government presented a proposal to increase levies on carbon pollution and force oil sands producers to cut emissions as much as 40 percent.

“The Harper government has gotten really good at rolling out these vague plans, and then stepping on the brakes,” Eddie Scher, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said in an interview. Compensating for digging up the oil sands and burning it for fuel, “doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

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