What Will Canada Give to Get Keystone XL?
Alison Redford, premier of the Canadian province of Alberta, is coming to Washington tomorrow to lobby Congress on behalf of the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline, which would boost her economy but raise global carbon emissions and endanger the environment of the states it would pass through on its way south. Or, as she puts it, she wants Americans to understand "the responsible energy development and the strong environmental policies we have in Alberta." Good idea, premier. Let me help.
For starters, Redford will probably want to explain Canada's recent announcement that it will fail to meet the emissions reductions Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised at a United Nations climate summit in 2009. Harper pledged that Canada would cut greenhouse gases to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Yet Canada's environment ministry now says emissions in 2020 will be unchanged from 2005, as cuts elsewhere are offset by increasing emissions from the oil sands. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported the current government has offered "no plan to close the gap" between Canada's target and its current trajectory.
Redford will probably also want to discuss last week's reports that the Canadian oil industry won a delay on governmental regulations that would have reduced the emissions per barrel of oil or fined polluters, saying the restrictions were too onerous. The industry wants the proposed reduction to be cut in half. The draft regulations, which the Harper government promised by July, have yet to be released.
Any U.S. official sitting across the table from Redford will be aware that the administration of President Barack Obama is taking a thumping from Republicans for increasing regulations on coal. That includes proposed emission restrictions for new coal plants, and rules set to be issued next year on existing plants.
So the question that Redford should be ready to answer is why Democrats, having taken a tough line on the U.S. coal industry at some political expense, should make an effort on Keystone to help Canadian officials who have been unwilling to undergo any comparable pain of their own. What's the point of decreasing emissions at home only to let them increase in Canada, especially if Democrats lose votes on both counts?
What can Redford offer in response to those concerns? What can Canada offer that President Barack Obama's administration can present to the project's opponents as evidence that, even if the pipeline is approved, their fight wasn't for nothing?
Harper reportedly sent Obama a letter in August, offering "joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector." It's possible that Redford is coming to advance those negotiations by offering something specific -- perhaps a compromise on the delayed emissions rules -- or to find out more about just what the administration would be willing to accept in return for approving the pipeline.
Yet, if the past few weeks in Canada are any indication, it seems more likely that the premier will spend her time repeating old arguments and winning few converts.
(Christopher Flavelle is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)