Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall makes environmental case for Keystone XL

Premier says Canada must create 'environmental elbow room' for Obama

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is in Washington today to press the case for the Keystone XL pipeline and to try to burnish Canada’s green credentials.

“We’re here principally to make the environmental case,” said Wall, who has been meeting with U.S. officials and lawmakers. The premier is giving speeches promoting Canada’s environmental record and  touting Saskatchewan’s clean-coal project which will capture carbon emissions from a coal-fired plant in North Dakota and pump it underground. (Carbon emissions from coal-fired plants are a leading source of carbon emissions in the U.S. “There is one coal-fire plant in Georgia that media reports say generates as much greenhouse gases as three-quarters of the oil sands,” said Wall.)

Wall said the U.S. State Department’s environmental report released Friday suggested “we are close to approval,” adding that Canada could give the president more leverage.

“We need to give them as much environmental elbow room as possible,” he told reporters at a breakfast near Capitol Hill this morning. “So to help with that elbow room, we are talking about our record in Saskatchewan.” He also mentioned Alberta’s carbon tax and the federal government’s promised emissions regulations for the oil and gas sector, which have not yet been announced.

He said Canadian advocates should shift from making economic and energy security arguments for the pipeline. “We really need to make more of an environmental case for this project,” he said. “There is a record that I would argue that is as aggressive, or maybe more than you would find here, in terms of energy and the environment, but we haven’t talked about it much.

“If the president can’t point to the fact [and say,] ‘Look, here’s what Canada’s doing. In many respects it’s more than is happening here, and more than what is happening in many countries in the world,’ then I think it helps the administration make a decision that I think now is lacking a lot of barriers,” he said. “I think that’s maybe some of the environmental elbow room we can give to the administration to make the decision; [that is,] to say we care about the issue — and we are putting our money where our mouths are,” said Wall.

Saskatchewan doesn’t have oil sands, but Wall says the province is directly affected by the project because it produces conventional oil that would be carried in the pipeline. Without access to the pipeline, Saskatchewan oil currently sells at a discount of 19 per cent, costing the provincial Treasury $300 million in lost revenue, Wall said. He emphasizes that up to 15 per cent of the oil in the proposed pipeline would be conventional oil.

But linking the decision to Canadian environmental policy is a delicate task. Afterall, it was Wall who responded with indignation when U.S. ambassador David Jacobson gave a speech implying Canada could make the decision easier for Obama by taking more climate action of its own. Wall penned a letter to Jacobson questioning those remarks. Today Wall said the ambassador’s comments seemed to imply a “quid pro quo” exchange of pipeline approval for tougher domestic regulations. “That kind of linkage — I don’t think it’s helpful,” he said. “We got a response back from ambassador and we’ll take them at their words that is not the case.”

Wall added that Canada must do more to publicize existing policies. “It’s not a quid pro quo. This is what we’re doing already. (…) These things are happening not because we’re trying to get Keystone approved,” he said. “We haven’t done a good job of talking about them. I freely admit we should have been doing a better job in this city, this country [saying] — here’s the economic case, here’s the energy security and oh, by the way, we care about the environment and here’s what we’re doing with respect to the environmental piece of this. We should have been on it sooner, but we’re on it now.”

Yesterday, he met with members of Congress, mostly Republicans who support the pipeline. But he did have a 10-minute “hallway meeting” with Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey, a leading Democratic climate hawk in the House of Representatives. He said Markey asked if  the pipeline was really aimed at exporting Canadian oil beyond the U.S. (Wall says most of the oil would stay in the U.S. but some refined products would be exported.) Today, Wall gives a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center (video), and  meets with Democratic senators and Kerry-Ann Jones, the assistant Secretary of State, who has been leading the Keystone XL review. He’s inviting them all to Saskatchewan.