As she proved during the passage of the U.S.'s health-care legislation, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is one of the world's most powerful legislators. But when it comes to shaping and shifting American policy on energy exports and oil sands, Ms. Pelosi may have less influence, or leeway, than either the environmentalists or the oil-sands advocates expect.
Each side has put the best sheen on its meetings with Ms. Pelosi during her visit to Canada last week. She "spoke very eloquently about the moral imperative for action on climate change," said Graham Saul of the Climate Action Network. Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta, said, "Boy, after today, I'm excited."
Mrs. Pelosi represents a San Francisco district and have a reputation as a liberal stalwart, but she is also an astute politician. Even in her public comments, she hedged, saying a discussion on Wednesday night "confirmed that the United States and Canada share a strong commitment to addressing climate change and energy security."
She also knows where the votes are. And there are few indications that, at present, Mrs. Pelosi can secure passage votes for a comprehensive climate-change package. The latest bill failed in the Senate, and President Barack Obama is now pursuing a new economic agenda, focused on tax changes and infrastructure development.
At the same time, pressure from the states, many of which have adopted aggressive environmental legislation, is increasing, and a more stripped-down energy bill that implements a low-carbon fuel standard (which could put oil-sands-
derived gasoline at a disadvantage) is one of the possible compromises. Furthermore, Ms. Pelosi was accompanied in Canada by Rep. Edward Markey, an environmental hawk and chair of a select committee on energy and climate change personally created by the Speaker.
But ultimately, the question may be moot, as Ms. Pelosi may soon fall from her pinnacle. If the Democrats lose control of the House in the November mid-term elections, she will be just an opposition politician - one of considerable skill and persuasive power, yes, but no longer one in a position to drive congressional decision-making. Mrs. Pelosi would, in that case, still be a dignitary, but Canadian environmentalists and oil-sands advocates will have reach out to Republicans - a much less environmentally inclined group - to make their case.
Follow us on Twitter: