The Harper government is matching tough new U.S. fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles such as semi-trucks – part of a campaign to demonstrate to Barack Obama's administration that Canada, home of the energy-intensive oil sands, is committed to fighting global warming.
The goal is winning White House approval for the controversial $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline project that would funnel 800,000 barrels of crude a day to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries from Alberta. The bitumen deposits have been vilified by critics as filthy and damaging to the climate, and Keystone has become a key early test of President Obama's latest promise to do something to combat climate change.
A decision is expected this spring on the pipeline, which has become a favourite target for environmentalists.
In the meantime, the Harper government and the premiers are trying to frame Canadians as green allies of the United States in the fight against climate change – despite critics who scorn Ottawa's record on the file.
Environment Minister Peter Kent announced at a truck terminal on Monday that Canada will require heavy-duty vehicles to meet stricter fuel standards beginning with next year's models. Regulations will establish progressively more stringent limits for 2014 to 2018 model-year vehicles, including full-size pick-ups, garbage trucks and buses.
Also, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger went to Washington on Monday – the latest in a parade of Canadian leaders visiting the U.S. capital to tout Canada's energy exports as clean, reliable and secure in the run-up to a decision on Keystone.
In rolling out stricter standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the Harper government took pains to emphasize its co-operation with the Obama administration.
"Our government continues to align our measures with the United States," Mr. Kent said. His department described the regulations as another example of the success Canada is having "working collaboratively with its partners in the United States" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Heavy-duty vehicle emissions account for 7 per cent of all of Canada's annual greenhouse-gas emissions. Ottawa estimates the more stringent rules will add an average of $1,082 in extra costs to each new truck or van but predicts fuel savings will quickly offset this.
In Washington, Mr. Selinger pitched Canada's huge hydroelectric generating capacity as an export that could bolster U.S. wind and solar projects in a mutually beneficial arrangement.
"Canadian hydro should be seen as a major component of a green energy strategy for the continent," he told a Power Partnerships conference sponsored by the Canada Institute at The Woodrow Wilson International Center.
He was accompanied by Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States, who is leading efforts to paint Canada's energy exports to the United States as not just secure but cleaner than the alternative. Mr. Doer says the fight against climate change should focus on reducing demand for petroleum through measures such as stricter emissions standards for autos instead of debating where in North America the oil originates.
"Hydro power is part of the solution to [dealing with] climate change," Mr. Selinger told his audience, outlining a major new export project that will allow surplus wind power generated in North Dakota to be stored behind Manitoba' dams and then – when demand warrants – sent to electrical consumers in Minnesota along with baseload hydro power generated in the Canadian province.
Mr. Selinger's visit to Washington came on the heels of a trip by Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who was in the U.S. capital promoting Keystone by explaining that the province's long-term energy strategy – like the President's – was going to be greener, renewable, responsible and secure.
In fact, green trumps everything else, she told The Globe and Mail during her weekend trip.
"We heard very quickly that they don't want to hear any more the security argument or the jobs argument. We get that," Ms. Redford said. "This is about environmental stewardship and sustainable development of the oil sands."
Next up among premiers to tour Washington will be Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, who'll visit in early March and is expected to push for Keystone's approval.
Federal officials have been equally busy.
Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird talked up Keystone in his meeting with new Secretary of State John Kerry, and Bob Hamilton, deputy minister of Canada's federal Environment Department, recently visited Washington to meet counterparts.
Both Joe Oliver, federal Natural Resources Minister, and Serge Dupont, his deputy minister, are scheduled to visit the United States to talk about Keystone and climate change. Mr. Oliver will give a speech on March 5 to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.
Mr. Doer says Alberta's crude is cleaner than the Venezuelan heavy oil it will replace in Gulf refineries, although environmentalists say Canada's new green argument is bogus.
In a teleconference sponsored by the anti-Keystone National Resources Defense Council, University of Toronto climate scientist Danny Harvey said: "In its attempt to secure approval of the Keystone Pipeline, the Canadian government is proclaiming its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions," but added: "Canada ranks as the worst performer in the developed world on climate change."
With a report from Josh Wingrove in Edmonton