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Environment Minister Peter Kent speaks in Vancouver on March 13, 2013.RAFAL GERSZAK/The Globe and Mail

Environment Minister Peter Kent planned to tout Canada's leadership on mitigating climate change and "to spread the good news" in Washington about new efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

But at a news conference Wednesday at the Canadian embassy, the minister quickly got entangled in the contentious debate about the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-delayed, deeply divisive plan to pipe Alberta's oil-sands crude to refineries close to Texas Gulf seaports.

"The challenge we face in the United States is to better inform the American public," Mr. Kent said, saying the case for Keystone XL was strong on business and environmental grounds.

The Environment Minister's visit came as Congress was holding hearings on Keystone XL and Alberta Premier Alison Redford was lobbying key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, barely a day after jeering demonstrators disrupted her speech extolling her province's commitment to sustainable development.

In what has become a mantra for the parade of visiting premiers and federal ministers, Mr. Kent defend Keystone XL. "Based on the facts, the science and the business benefits," Mr. Kent said the Canadian government hoped the final U.S. decision would be to approve the pipeline.

Mr. Kent, in Washington for a long-scheduled meeting of an UN-group working on funding proactive efforts to curb man-made greenhouse gases, had planned to simply announce that Canada would add another $10-million to fund efforts to limit so-called short-lived emissions.

They include methane venting from hundreds of thousands of garbage dumps and black soot from incomplete combustion, both of which had a huge impact in the rapidly disappearing Arctic ice cap – which in turns reduces the natural reflectiveness of the northern polar region and thus creates a feedback of increased warming. "Canada understands first-hand the importance of addressing short-lived climate pollutants," he said.

Mr. Kent called it an "investment" in finding ways to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. He will also attend the 17-nation Major Economy Forum on Energy and Climate later this week.

But, at least in Washington, portraying Canada as a leader in green, sustainable, energy development is tough sledding at a time when Keystone XL eclipses all other issues and Mr. Kent was faced with a barrage of questions from Canadian and U.S. journalists about the pipeline.

"It's a coincidence, and a pleasant coincidence," said Mr. Kent, rejecting reporters' suggestions that there was anything politically orchestrated about the timing of his funding announcement to combat greenhouse gases and the latest round of pro-Keystone lobbying. He described the anti-Keystone campaign as "well-funded."

Meanwhile, Ms. Redford was upbeat after her round of meetings with U.S. legislators. She said Alberta will remain a major energy exporter and that its vast, mostly untapped, oil sands would find a way to market.

Pipelines, whether to Canada's East or West Coast or even north to Alaska were all routes to tidewater and markets overseas, irrespective of the outcome of the Keystone XL decision. "It's not as though Keystone is the only avenue" she told reporters before flying back to Canada.

President Barack Obama is due to approve or reject the pipeline later this year. Anti-Keystone activists want to turn that decision into an integrity test of the President's sweeping – albeit vague – vow to take serious action on climate change. For them, Keystone XL, and the carbon-laden heavy Alberta crude it will funnel to the Gulf, represents a regressive step by giving what they regard as particularly toxic and climate-damaging oil sands crude an easy route to tidewater and global markets.

Among others, Ms. Redford met with North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven, sponsor of the non-binding, pro-Keystone resolution that passed by a nearly 2-1 margin last month, and Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. Any pipeline crossing into Alaska would face the same regulatory process as Keystone XL.