The federal government is forging ahead with plans for an energy and climate partnership with the United States and Mexico amid heightened uncertainty over President Barack Obama's ability to deliver on his key policy for driving down carbon emissions.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr on Friday met in Winnipeg with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Mexico's Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, and agreed the three nations should heighten their joint efforts to meet clean energy and climate challenges.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to highlight the importance of North American co-operation on energy and climate when he meets Mr. Obama on a state visit to Washington next month. The two leaders – plus Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto – will then gather for the "three amigos" summit in May.
At their two-day meeting in Winnipeg, the energy ministers signed a memorandum of understanding that established working groups covering: low-carbon electricity; clean energy technologies; energy efficiency; carbon capture, use and storage; climate change adaptation; and reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector.
"We've always known that co-operation is key to make us all stronger and more competitive internationally," Mr. Carr said on a conference call. The agreement "builds on the important strides we've made over the years towards a continental energy strategy and it expands our relationship towards an even more ambitious clean energy and environmental agreement."
Their meeting comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on Mr. Obama's signature Clean Power Plan until it hears arguments from states and business groups that are challenging its constitutionality. Administration officials – including Mr. Moniz on Friday – expressed confidence that the court will uphold the climate plan, which would force states to reduce emissions from coal-fired power and expand the use of natural gas, hydro and renewable sources.
But several states have indicated they will slow their implementation efforts, and financial analysts from Citigroup Inc. said the court's decision to temporarily suspend Mr. Obama's executive order suggests the administration faces a tough battle when it comes to arguing the merits of the case.
Canadian electricity producers are already major exporters to the United States, and sales hit record numbers last year. But hydro-based utilities and renewable power producers are eager to increase sales of low-emission electricity in the coming years to states that are looking for options to comply with the Clean Power Plan. A study by the North American Electric Reliability Council suggested Canadian electricity exports could triple by 2030 under the Obama plan.
Power producers on this side of the border are looking at the U.S. Supreme Court decision "as a speed bump rather than a signal to turn back," Sergio Marchi, president of the Canadian Electricity Association, said in an interview from Winnipeg, where he participated in a trilateral business-government energy forum. Several states are continuing their work on the Clean Power Plan, and others are moving on their own to replace coal-fired power.
"Clean energy is the future," he said. "So, there are two options: Either embrace that future and work for it now, or cling to the past and miss that future."
The agreement signed Friday in Winnipeg builds on work done by the previous federal government, which signed a similar memorandum on co-operation in December, 2014.
However, environmental advocates said the difference this year was the level of commitment by the Canadian government, and the absence of discussion on cross-border oil pipelines after Mr. Obama's decision last November to kill TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Indeed, Mr. Carr said there was no discussion of Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Alberta Clipper cross-border pipeline expansion, which is awaiting U.S. approval.