WASHINGTON – Canada’s environment minister sat down Monday for a chat with one of the most powerful senators in the United States but the issue that’s hounding Jim Prentice back home – Alberta’s oilsands – was not discussed.
“The subject never came up,” Prentice said following the half-hour discussion with John Kerry in the senator’s Capitol Hill office.
Prentice is in Washington this week to talk to American power brokers about collaborating on clean energy and climate change policies. He meets with key White House environmental officials on Tuesday following his sit-down with Kerry.
The Massachusetts senator is head of the Senate foreign relations committee, and someone Prentice credits with helping to foster productive relations between Canada and the United States.
Despite the fact that their discussions were focused on the environment, Canada’s biggest environmental black eye – the tarsands – wasn’t a topic of conversation.
This despite a growing outcry about the oilsands following months of environmental groups assailing them as the most destructive energy project on Earth, and a damning piece in this month’s National Geographic magazine that features devastating photographs of the environmental destruction in northern Alberta.
During discussions with President Barack Obama last month in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempts to protect the tarsands from any adverse American policies in a joint U.S.-Canada climate change and energy pact didn’t fly, said a source close to the talks.
An Environment Ministry official disputed that version of events late Monday, however, saying no special requests were made about the oilsands during the Parliament Hill discussion.
One U.S. congressman – Democrat Henry Waxman of California, an ardent environmentalist – has all but declared war on the oilsands, once proposing to ban dirty fuels, including oil produced by Alberta’s tarsands, from purchase by U.S. federal agencies.
As the new chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, Waxman has pledged to have a bill combining energy issues and climate change provisions – including a proposed cap-and-trade system – ready for Congress this spring.
Kerry was asked Monday how his opinion of the oilsands differed from Waxman’s.
“I haven’t made any judgments as to whether it differs or not,” he replied while posing for photographs with Prentice.
Instead, Prentice said later, the two men discussed “the expansion of clean energy research and the deployment of clean energy technology.”
There’s little doubt, however, that the tarsands will come up in Prentice’s discussions Tuesday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Todd Stern, the president’s special envoy on climate change and Lisa Jackson, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Obama administration is committed to battling global warming and ending American’s dependence on overseas oil.
The U.S. is working on ways to cut back on carbon emissions from coal-burning thermal electricity plants in its own backyard. But with Canada the biggest supplier of energy to the United States, the pressure is on for Ottawa to do something about the oilsands.
Obama’s first budget, announced last week, includes caps for greenhouse gas emissions, something that’s never been proposed by the Harper government.
The Obama plan creates a market for permits to be purchased from the government, then traded among emitters. These permits might bring the U.S. government $300 billion in revenues in a decade.