Premier Alison Redford of Alberta acquitted herself well on Tuesday in a speech and discussion of the Keystone XL pipeline at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., a well-known think-tank that is generally regarded as liberal, which may bode well for a decision in the pipeline's favour by President Barack Obama.
In his introduction, Daniel Yergin, a famous American energy economist, jokingly said that Keystone is "the most famous pipeline in the history of the world, even without being built yet."
The State Department's recent "supplementary environmental impact statement" concluded that the pipeline in itself would cause only a minimal increase to carbon emissions. One questioner at Brookings observed that, consequently, some opponents now argue that Keystone should be stopped because of "its symbolic dimension." Ms. Redford aptly replied that no particular project should be made to symbolize the whole phenomenon of a changing climate.
Some in the audience appeared to be pleasantly surprised to learn that Alberta sets a price on carbon at all, but the Premier did not really reply to a question about the timing of the province's current consideration of an increased carbon levy, except to say that the effectiveness of the carbon price is continually under discussion – not acknowledging that a somewhat higher price would probably go over well with the Obama administration. Her repeated use of the buzz phrase "social licence to operate" invites an inference that wider political concerns are indeed at work.
She was successful in emphasizing that the oil sands emit less, not only than power plants in Ohio and Indiana, but also than the farming state of Iowa, and in highlighting the benefits to American refinery workers – as well as to American energy users in general.
Ms. Redford's moderation and style of speech are quite persuasive in the Washington of a liberal Democratic administration. She is a better spokesperson for Alberta, and Canada as a whole, than some of her predecessors and rivals would have been.