- Nations agree to cut methane emissions from oil and gas wells
- Canadian prime minister's U.S. visit includes a state dinner
President Barack Obama welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House on Thursday for a state visit as the two leaders sought to join forces to combat climate change.
Trudeau and Obama have both described the warming planet as among the world’s most pressing challenges. On Thursday the U.S. and Canada issued a joint statement agreeing to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by as much as 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. As part of that effort, the U.S. is beginning regulatory efforts to limit emissions at existing oil and gas infrastructure for the first time.
The announcement underscores that the outgoing president and the incoming prime minister are ideologically aligned and eager to address areas of mutual interest.
“We have a common outlook on the world,” Obama said Thursday in welcoming Trudeau during a sun-drenched ceremony on the South Lawn. “We are steadfast allies and the closest of friends.”
Obama, 54, sees himself in the younger Trudeau, 44, whose ascent in Canadian politics was built on pledges of hope and change and an inclusive vision of his country, and whose children are roughly the same age as Obama’s when he was elected in 2008. Obama noted the leaders’ shared commitment to universal health care, gay rights, and support for immigrants and refugees.
“It’s wonderful to see our American friends and partners share and are working on the exact same priorities,” Trudeau said at the White House.
Following the welcome ceremony, Trudeau and Obama headed to the Oval Office for a private meeting where they were also expected to discuss more prickly issues, including security-induced traffic jams at the U.S.-Canadian border and Canada’s halting participation in the bombing campaign against Islamic State.
Later in the morning, the two leaders planned to hold a joint news conference at the White House. And in the evening, Trudeau will be treated to a state dinner, including a main course of herb-crusted Colorado lamb splashed with Canadian whiskey. It will be the first state dinner for a Canadian prime minister since 1997.
The centerpiece of the leaders’ policy discussions will be the new regulations to limit methane emissions. Methane is 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere over 20 years, and the oil and gas sector accounts for about a third of U.S. emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Next month, that agency will begin a formal process to compel energy companies to provide information about the methane emissions produced through oil and gas activities, including production, transmission, processing and storage.
The EPA is already finishing a rule that would require oil and gas companies to upgrade equipment and search out methane leaks at new and modified wells. Thursday’s announcement that the federal government will also clamp down on leaks at existing equipment may assuage concerns from environmentalists who say cutting leaks at new wells isn’t enough to meet Obama’s carbon-cutting pledges.
According to the statement, the EPA “will move as expeditiously as possible to complete this process.”
If the EPA is unable to complete work on its methane regulation before the end of the Obama presidency, a Republican successor likely would withdraw the rule. Oil and gas companies, whose profits are suffering because of a drop in prices, probably will seek to derail the plan.
The government in Canada’s Alberta province is considering stricter methane rules for new equipment, though they likely won’t be as prescriptive as U.S. regulations, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Bernard Chen. Environmental regulators in Canada intend to publish an initial phase of proposed methane regulations by early 2017, according to the joint statement.
Obama and Trudeau also are promising to collaborate in managing the Arctic, including taking unspecified “concrete steps” to protect at least 17 percent of the region’s land and 10 percent of its water.
From shipping to oil development, commercial activities in the region should only occur when the highest environmental standards are met, the countries said. According to the joint statement, the U.S. and Canada will work to develop a shared, science-based standard for considering the broad environmental impacts of commercial activities in the region -- reviews that could incorporate climate change considerations.
Trudeau is bringing with him to Washington his fisheries minister, Hunter Tootoo, an aboriginal Canadian who represents the district of Nunavut, a thinly populated and developed northern territory.
“As an Inuk, I’m keenly aware of the issues in the North,” Tootoo said in an interview. “We’re on the front lines of climate change and we’re feeling the impacts of it already.”
The two leaders also professed their support for halting routine flaring at oil and gas sites by 2030, committed to collaborate on boosting the fuel efficiency of post-2018 model year heavy-duty vehicles and said they would work together to integrate U.S. and Canadian electric grids, allowing more renewable power to be brought online and shared across the border.
Trade and Terror
Canada’s contributions to the fight against Islamic State have caused some heartburn for the Obama administration. Trudeau withdrew Canada’s six fighter jets from the coalition bombing the terrorist group in February, while increasing the number of Canadian troops helping to train Iraqi forces fighting the militants.
Trade is another difficult issue for Obama and Trudeau. The Canadian leader remains noncommittal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, including Canada, that Obama views as a cornerstone of his legacy.
The pact was hammered out in the middle of Canada’s election campaign. Under Trudeau, Canada hopes to enact its own free trade agreement with Europe after revising it to avoid fears that corporations would be gain too much power, a concern that has stalled trade negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union.
Softwood, Red Meat
The two sides also need to decide whether they want to renew an agreement on Canadian softwood lumber imports that expired in October. U.S. industry groups say that the country unfairly subsidizes its lumber production.
White House officials want Canada to drop a World Trade Organization case challenging a U.S. labeling law requiring retailers to note an animal’s country of origin on red meat packaging. That law was repealed last month after repeated WTO rulings against the U.S.
The two countries appear to be nearing an agreement to share more records on border crossings between law enforcement agencies and cut restrictions on shippers. The latter would probably require legislation in both countries, the White House said.
There may be incentive to resolve border issues now, before the November U.S. presidential election. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has made a central issue of tightening U.S. immigration policies and border security. Trudeau’s aides privately acknowledge they worry about advancing their agenda if a Republican takes the Oval Office. Trudeau, however, has said he could work with Trump.
“One of the things I demonstrated through my approach to politics is I work across all party lines. I don’t pick and choose on ideologies,” Trudeau said of Trump. “I think I made very, very clear during our own election campaign here what my take was on certain issues that have come up in the U.S. context, but I don’t need to re-litigate any of that. Canadians spoke clearly and I look forward to seeing what Americans decide in November.”