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Politics Redford will be Washington-bound again to hasten Keystone’s approval

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, shown Feb. 9, 2013.

CHRIS BOLIN/The Globe and Mail

Fresh off a visit to Washington, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is pledging a swift return to the American capital to woo "decision makers" to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Ms. Redford spent the weekend at a gathering of American state governors, meeting with 22 of them. Along with Environment Minister Diana McQueen, Ms. Redford said she spent the meetings reiterating the pipeline's economic benefits while laying out the province's environmental track record. The Alberta Premier called it a "very good weekend," saying she found a willing audience among her counterparts.

"Apart from whether they were Republican or Democratic governors, there was an understanding of what's going on, there was a recognition of the importance of this project," Ms. Redford told reporters Monday in Edmonton, adding she and Ms. McQueen sought to "make sure that we were able to talk about what our environmental record had been, to make sure that all of the information is on the table. I think that was helpful."

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The Washington trip, which came one week after a large anti-Keystone protest in the American capital, is the third for Ms. Redford. Asked when she'd make her fourth, she replied, "It won't be too long."

Alberta has its own full-time envoy in Washington, David Manning, who has been working with Canada's Ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, to push for the pipeline's approval.

"It wasn't the first time [governors] have heard that information …We're carrying on. We are committed to spending more time, making sure we're sharing as much information as we possibly can and taking every opportunity to identify and meet with people that are decision makers, and could be involved with this," Ms. Redford said, brushing aside questions about whether the trips and advocates become redundant. The latest, to Washington, cost an estimated $45,000.

"This is about ensuring we are communicating the Alberta story. This is fundamental. And if, at the end of the day we [choose] between premiers not doing enough and premiers doing too much, I'm going to go with doing too much. Because this matters to Alberta, it matters to Canada," she said.

Ms. Redford has renewed her province's efforts on the environment file since becoming premier, but the track record is mixed.

The province has collected $317-million since 2007 through a partial carbon tax on the largest of emitters, reinvesting $180-million of that in 49 clean technology projects, it says. It has poured money into carbon capture and storage, and has moved to beef up environmental monitoring in the oil sands. "I think Americans are really impressed with that, and we're going to keep talking about that," Ms. Redford said.

However, emissions are on pace to grow significantly as more projects come online, and there's no plan to reduce overall emissions growth. The new monitoring program, announced last year, has already met delays and isn't fully implemented. One carbon capture project was cancelled Monday due to sagging natural-gas prices, and a number of studies have begun to paint a picture of the effects of toxins from industrial development. The footprint of pollution is wider than first thought, and one recent study said some remote lakes near the oil sands are now roughly as contaminated as an urban lake.

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A report released Monday by the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, argued Alberta needs to significantly increase its carbon price – in part by extending it to all emitters, setting more aggressive targets or charging more money – if it hopes to reduce emissions amid heightened awareness about environmental performance.

"We can see that emissions have risen sharply in recent years, and they're projected to grow steeply toward the end of the decade," said P.J. Partington, lead author of the Carbon Pricing Approaches study. Alberta's carbon price is $15 per tonne for some emitters; Norway's, comparatively, is $71 for all oil and gas emitters, the study said. "Clearly Alberta's current plan isn't going to get the job done," Mr. Partington said.

Asked Monday about whether Alberta would consider broadening its carbon-pricing system, or hike the per-tonne fee, Ms. Redford demurred. "I know there's been a lot of discussion across the country about it. I don't think we've landed on any of that yet. I expect that there'll be more conversations that go on, but it's far too early to say."

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