Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver met Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama's Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in Washington for talks on joint efforts to contain greenhouse-gas emissions and to urge approval of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline – but neither sought nor received any hint on when a decision might be coming.
"I haven't been given a timeframe," Mr. Oliver said, adding that he didn't directly ask Mr. Moniz, who plays only a relatively minor role in the controversial Keystone decision. Responsibility for approval lies with the U.S. State Department and Mr. Obama.
The minister also declined to discuss what he called "the purported letter" from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Mr. Obama outlining a willingness to engage in joint efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The existence of the letter, confirmed by sources with direct knowledge of it, was made public last week.
To avoid anti-Keystone XL protestors – who have habitually disrupted appearances by Canadian premiers and ministers in recent months as the anti-pipeline effort has ramped up – Mr. Oliver delivered his brief speech on a Canadian embassy outdoor plaza overlooking the Capitol. Only 20 seats had been set out and embassy security staff refused to allow representatives from groups opposing Keystone – or members of the public – into the building to hear Mr. Oliver.
On a hot, hazy, humid Washington afternoon, Mr. Oliver said the United States should regard Canada as a "secure reliable and responsible producer" of energy, adding that Alberta's vast heavy oil sands crude are still far cleaner than coal – which is the largest source of electricity generation in the United States.
Even after being turned away by embassy diplomats, groups opposing the plan to funnel upwards of one million barrels a day of Alberta heavy crude to refineries on the Texas and Louisiana coasts, were quick to denounce Mr. Oliver's message.
"The Harper government wants to have its cake and eat it too," said All Risk, No Reward Chair Randy Thompson. "They're trying to talk the talk on climate change, but they won't walk the walk. Saying anything to get this reckless pipeline to the export market is not in our national interest. Americans are counting on President Obama to see through Canada's transparent promises."
Mr. Oliver, making his fifth visit to Washington since become natural resources minister, has been unflagging in his efforts to win American public support and political approval for Keystone XL.
Polls show a majority of Americans back the pipeline but it is a problematic issue for key segments of Mr. Obama's most ardent supporters, who say approval would tar his claim that he wants to seriously tackle global warming.
Even as he continues to seek U.S. support for Keystone, Mr. Oliver made clear that Canada has "a strategic need to diversify its energy exports" widely seen as a warning that oil sands crude will reach world markets whether or not Keystone XL is approved by Mr. Obama.