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Oliver’s Washington visit to focus on Keystone and climate change

Joe Oliver, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, is pictured in March, 2013. His trip to Washington on Sept. 9, 2013, will focus on Keystone XL and climate change.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver heads to Washington Monday to help sell the Keystone XL pipeline as Ottawa steps up efforts to persuade the Obama administration that it's ready to partner on tackling climate change.

The visit will mark Mr. Oliver's first face-to-face meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz since he took the job in May.

Mr. Oliver is expected to tell Mr. Moniz that Ottawa and Washington are on the same page on both energy and climate change.

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"Enhancing bilateral energy collaboration will support jobs, environmental stewardship and North American energy security," Mr. Oliver said in an e-mail.

The visit comes just days after reports surfaced that Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama in late August, pledging to work with the U.S. to curtail carbon emissions in the oil and gas industry.

The letter has not been made public, but The Globe and Mail reported Friday that Mr. Harper told Mr. Obama he's ready to work with the U.S. to provide political cover for the controversial Keystone pipeline, which would ship crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, a leading Keystone critic launched a $1-million (U.S.) series of TV ads on the Sunday morning political shows across the United States, taking aim at Keystone operator TransCanada Corp. NextGen Climate Action founder Tom Steyer narrates the campaign, dubbed Bringing Down TransCanada's House of Cards: The Keystone Chronicles, and claims in the first spot that Keystone crude will be refined and sold offshore to China and other countries.

Canadian officials confirmed Mr. Oliver will talk to Mr. Moniz about Keystone, which is still awaiting approval from the Obama administration. The next step in that process is a final impact statement on the project this fall from the U.S. State Department, with input from the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Obama administration has made it clear to the Conservative government in recent months that they want to see more Canadian progress on reducing emissions from the oil sands.

"The Americans clearly see the ball as being in our court," remarked Colin Robertson, an Ottawa-based expert on border issues and former Canadian diplomat in Washington.

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Among other things, the Obama administration wants to see Canada's long promised new oil and gas regulations, which would provide a clue about how far Ottawa is ready to go to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, including those from the oil sands, according to Mr. Robertson "It's good that Oliver is taking the initiative," Mr. Robertson said. The key, he added, is to convince the Americans that it makes sense to work on common emissions standards from all sources, including oil.

The dilemma for both the Canadian government and the Obama administration is that the Keystone pipeline has become synonymous among environmentalists for worsening climate change. And Mr. Obama has made emission reduction one of the key policy initiatives of his second term.

The fear in Canada is that if Ottawa moves too far unilaterally on reducing emissions from the oil sands it will wind up driving investment to the U.S. – in the absence of matching industry regulations south of the border.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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