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03/07/2013

DC's Keystone XL treadmill: Today's guest, Brad Wall

BWall
Premier Brad Wall addresses the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 16, 2012. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

As the incredible shrinking, swelling maybe-yes-maybe-no saga of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline builds to a cresendo, the intensity of Canadian lobbying in DC is proceeding apace.

The visitor-du-jour is Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who spoke to the Star on the tail end of two frantic days in Washington, where the updated KXL message -- once built around economics and energy security -- is now shifting to "We're greener than you think."

That may be a harder sell, but Wall was putting the best face on it, bouyed by last week's State Department draft environmental impact assessment widely viewed as a significant boost for the Alberta oilsands pipeline project.

"The economic arguments are well-known down here. And so are the energy arguments," said Wall, "but they don't know our environmental record, which, though not perfect, is compelling. And so my focus is on that -- telling the story that will help give the (Obama) administration as much environmental elbow room as possible."

Wall's argument is built around the bullish prospects for SaskPower's vaunted $1.24B carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Boundary Dam near Estevan, which is proceeding on time and budget to become fully operational within a year.

SaskPower officials now believe the province's aggressive investments in "clean coal technology" could actually pay dividends, with international partners paying to test emerging technologies at the province's CO2 capture test facility at Shand Power Station.

As for action in neighbouring Alberta, Wall remains "cautious" on the rising chorus of critics who say better climate policy, rather than better messaging, is the way to win people over to oilsands development.

Calgary's Pembina Institute put that question under the spotlight last week, arguing that without a far more ambitious approach to carbon pricing in Alberta (currently $15 per tonne), oilsands emmissions will climb unchecked, "almost certainly" causing Canada to fail in its climate commitments. Pembina is calling for a graduated rise to $150 per tonne of carbon emissions reduced -- "That's the point where we'll see widespread use of innovative solutions ... the point where the country's emissions curve starts to bend down." 

"We do need to freely admit that we need to do more," Wall told the Star. "But when you're talking about carbon pricing, we need to be very cautious. This won't sit well with people who think we're already too cautious -- but right now Canada is among a very few economies in the world that are doing well.

"We're an energy power. And moving to a level risks handicapping the economy, we just have to council caution. For us, in Saskatchewan, we're spending $1,400 for every man, woman and child on our projects. That's a lot of public expenditure, that's pretty bold. And that's what I'm here to talk about."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites 

 

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