WASHINGTON - Alberta expects a U.S. working group to classify the province's oilsands fuel as a conventional resource to exempt it from tough new restrictions on imports, provincial envoy Gary Mar said Tuesday.
A major energy bill passed last year prohibits the American government from buying "alternative" fuels that produce more greenhouse gas emissions over the life of a project than other sources.
Right now, oil from the oilsands is considered alternative energy under the legislation, although Canada argues it shouldn't be because it's processed in conventional facilities.
"Our understanding of the latest work done by the inter-agency group is that they will, in fact, classify oilsands as conventional," said Mar, Alberta's representative in the U.S. capital.
"It could solve the problem. We've gotten some administrative assurances that's the direction they want to go."
The decision, which would take several months, wouldn't preclude legal action from outside groups if they wanted to challenge the interpretation of the energy bill, Mar added.
There's also legislation before Congress to repeal that section of the legislation.
Alberta Deputy Premier Ron Stevens has joined Mar this week to promote the oilsands project among U.S. legislators and officials.
But he's been dogged by environmentalists who took out an ad in a Capitol Hill newspaper Tuesday that has the Maple Leaf oozing oil.
The coalition of groups, including the National Resources Defense Council, wants Canada to slow down the development and take steps to clean it up.
Federal and provincial plans to address global warming will allow carbon dioxide emissions to triple by the year 2020, said the coalition. "And there have been no plans announced to address the cleanup of large toxic lakes, the health impacts of native communities or the damage to Alberta's Boreal forest."
Stevens argued Alberta shares the environmental concerns of people in Canada and the United States.
The province needs to do more, he said, but remains pragmatic and realistic.
"We recognize that cars will still be driven, that ordinary people want to see relief from high energy prices and that the hundreds of thousands of workers in the energy sector do still want their jobs."
Alberta has planted more than 7.5 million trees in the area where oil has been produced, said Stevens, and is reclaiming oilsands land for hiking trails.
The oilsands produce one-tenth of one per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, he said, and four per cent of Canada's emissions.
"Through technology, industry has already reduced our emissions intensity by 45 per cent since 1990," said Stevens and the goal is a 70 per cent drop by 2050, or the equivalent of taking 42 million cars off the road.
Hurting the project would only encourage more oil from unstable countries and cost a lost of jobs, he said. "I ask you whether there is sense in that."
Alberta is planning a multimillion advertising blitz.
Premier Ed Stelmach will travel to southern California and central Europe later this year to counteract environmentalists who say that rapid oilsands development is creating an environmental disaster.
The province supplies about 1.3 million barrels of crude oil to the United States a day, about 13 per cent of the country's supply.
It's projecting exports of three million barrels a day by 2015.