Justin Trudeau says he would bolster Canada’s case for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline by introducing financial incentives to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the oil and gas industry.
Canada should establish a price for carbon emissions to show it’s addressing climate change and to give President Barack Obama political “cover” to approve TransCanada Corp.’s $5.4 billion project, Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party said yesterday in an interview in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He said he was “agnostic” about how the price should be set.
“The way to promote Keystone XL is not to be shouting, ‘You need to approve this.’ It’s to actually get our own house in order and demonstrate we’re serious about the responsibilities that come with carbon emissions,” said Trudeau. “That’s why it’s become politically untenable to approve something that should have been approved years ago.”
Trudeau’s call to action contrasts with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s position that he won’t regulate oil and gas emissions without similar U.S. measures because it would put Canadian producers at a competitive disadvantage. Harper and his ministers have continued to press for Keystone in speeches and meetings with U.S. officials.
The State Department said in April it would again delay a decision on Calgary-based TransCanada’s conduit in order to give parties more time to comment. That further stalled a project first proposed in 2008 and originally intended to come online in 2012. Obama has said he won’t approve the pipeline if it significantly adds to carbon emissions linked to global warming.
Canada has the world’s third-largest crude reserves, much of it in the oil sands near Fort McMurray. The area’s heavy crude has traded at an average of $18.70 per barrel below the U.S. benchmark over the last five years due in part to transportation bottlenecks. The discount costs Canada’s economy as much as C$50 million a day, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from the oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.
Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said he’ll continue working with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to “enhance cooperation on energy and the economy.” Canada won’t “take actions unilaterally that would put Canadian jobs and the economy at a disadvantage,” Rickford said in an e-mailed statement today in response to Trudeau’s comments.
Rickford, Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird all traveled to New York this month, arguing in media interviews and at an energy conference that Obama has unfairly entangled the $5.4 billion pipeline with U.S. politics.
“It’s not moving forward,” Trudeau said of the pipeline. “We’ve never had a worse relationship with the United States, because perhaps our entire continental relationship has been reduced to not just one industry or one company but one single project.”
Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, cited moves by Obama this month to cut emissions from U.S. power plants, that country’s largest source of greenhouse gases.
Harper said June 9 that the U.S. moves don’t go as far as Canada’s regulations in the power-generation sector. He said Canada would deal with climate change in a way that protects Canadian jobs, not destroys them.
Trudeau, 42, said his Liberals would spell out in an election platform how they would go about putting a price on carbon. Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion lost the 2008 election after proposing a carbon tax that was vilified by the Conservatives.
The Liberals have held a consistent lead in public opinion polls since Trudeau became leader in April last year. While the next general election is scheduled for October, 2015, there are partial elections scheduled June 30 to fill four vacancies, including the district containing Fort McMurray.
“The Liberal Party is somewhat agnostic,” Trudeau said. “We recognize the fact that the discussion around carbon pricing has been incredibly polarized politically.”
Harper’s Conservative-Party government has been regulating greenhouse-gas emissions on an industry-by-industry basis. The main opposition New Democratic Party has proposed a cap-and-trade system, which Conservative lawmakers have labeled a “tax on everything.”
At the provincial level, Alberta requires companies that emit more than 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year to cut emissions per barrel by 12 percent or pay a penalty of C$15 per ton. The proceeds of the levy are paid into a fund that invests in technologies that cut carbon output.
British Columbia established a carbon tax in 2008, which is imposed on fossil-fuel consumers and designed to encourage use of alternative fuels.
Whatever form the carbon price takes, businesses need clarity, Trudeau said. Companies “want to know where the benchmarks will be, what the expectations will be, for the next 10 years, for the next 25 years.”
“That kind of clarity will allow industry to make a business model, invest in capital upgrades they need to justify to their shareholders,” he said. “That kind of clarity is exactly what this government hasn’t given.”
While Trudeau has joined Harper in supporting Keystone XL, he reiterated his intention to kill another proposed pipeline: Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway, which was approved by Harper’s cabinet earlier this month.
Trudeau said the project, which would cross the mountains of British Columbia and bring oil sands crude to the Pacific Coast for export by tanker, never had local support and was “doomed” from the beginning.
“There are a lot of tools at a prime minister’s and a government’s disposal,” Trudeau said when asked how he’d stop Northern Gateway. “We’ll use the most appropriate one that has the lowest impact and cost for Canadians.”