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Redford stumps for oil sands, Keystone XL in Washington

FILE PHOTO: Alberta Premier Alison Redford met with New Brunswick Premier David Alward in Calgary.

STRINGER/CANADA/REUTERS

Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she's open to tougher environmental regulations, but only if current policies fall short of her goals, and not as a trade-off to win U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Our regulations are pretty tough," Ms. Redford said Saturday in an interview, responding to a question about whether she would tighten scrutiny of the oil sands to appease skeptics in President Barack Obama's administration.

"I'm not going to start down that path. Part of the quid pro quo is we want people to understand what our record," on environmental protection, the premier said. "We think it's important to be leaders and demonstrate some leadership and we've done that."

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Dozens of U.S. power brokers are receiving a version of that message this weekend in Washington. Ms. Redford and her environment minister, Diana McQueen, are in the American capital to hang around the margins of the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, which attracts the leaders of the 50 states and a countless number of officials, staffers and lobbyists with influence in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Ms. Redford called her trip "organic," and said she wasn't in Washington to advocate for any particular project. Ms. Redford said she met Saturday with Maine Governor Paul LePage to discuss her efforts – with New Brunswick Premier David Alward – to clear the way for a pipeline that would stretch east from the oil sands.

Yet the Alberta premier made no attempt to suggest that Keystone XL wasn't the primary topic of conversation.

TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.'s proposal to ship Canadian heavy crude from northern Alberta to refineries in Texas must win the approval of the Obama administration. The president's supporters in the environmental movement want the project blocked, arguing the energy-intensive transaction process used in the oil sands emits too much carbon. Mr. Obama temporarily stalled the pipeline last year, and is expected to make a final decision in the spring.

The fervent opposition to Alberta oil caught Canadian officials off guard.

Ms. Redford visited Washington within a few weeks of first becoming premier in October, 2011. She says she soon learned that the old arguments in favour of Canadian oil – a safe, friendly supplier; jobs, jobs and more jobs – were no longer enough.

"We heard very quickly that they don't want to hear anymore the security argument or the jobs argument. We get that," Ms. Redford said, remarking on the response she got to Alberta's traditional pitch. "Really, this is about environmental stewardship and sustainable development of the oil sands. We were quite happy to talk about that, [but] that was a shift in the kinds of conversations that Alberta was having."

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The two Alberta politicians arrived in Washington a week after thousands of environmentalists rallied against the Keystone pipeline on the National Mall, a show of force that poses a political dilemma for Mr. Obama, who used his State of the Union speech to pledge a fresh assault on climate change. Tens of thousands of the people who helped elect him say he should start by refusing TransCanada's request to build a pipeline across the border, and strike a blow against "dirty oil."

Ms. Redford is countering that message by insisting her government is as committed to fighting climate change as any in North America.

Following a separate meeting with the Washington Post's environment reporter, Alberta's premier and environment minister insisted their province gets too little credit for its green agenda. The province plans to set aside millions of hectares for conservation, including 1.2-million hectares that already has been put off-limits for exploitation in the oil-sands region. It has put limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of the few jurisdictions in the world that has put a price – $15 a tonne – on carbon emissions that exceed provincial limits. Receipts from that penalty are used to stock a new technology fund.

"It's a strong record," Ms. Redford said. "We're ahead of a lot of places in the world, and people tend not to know that."

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About the Author
Senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation

Kevin Carmichael is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, based in Mumbai.Previously, he was Report on Business's correspondent in Washington. He has covered finance and economics for a decade, mostly as a reporter with Bloomberg News in Ottawa and Washington. A native of New Brunswick's Upper St. More

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