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NEWS: Will the Harper government try to bully the U.S. on the KXL pipeline too?

An estimated 50,000 people marched in Washington, DC yesterday in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The Harper government has been actively lobbying in the United States in favour of this pipeline, with Harper’s foreign affairs minister John Baird most recently pressing US Secretary of State John Kerry on the issue.

There is some speculation that the Obama administration may be looking to Canada for serious action on climate change as a way to enable it to approve the pipeline.

Last week, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson told the Canadian Press that President Obama’s State of the Union address calling for action on climate change should also be interpreted as a challenge to the Harper government. Jacobson commented, “We all need to do as much as we can. And that is true in your country and in mine. Obviously the more that the energy industry — whether it is the oilsands in Canada or the energy industry in the United States, or any place else — the more progress they can make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce their consumption of water, to other environmental consequences, the better off we all are.”

Claudia Cattaneo commented in the Financial Post, “The subtext: the president is looking for ways to approve the project, but also wants to be able to say that Canada is working on a greenhouse gas reduction plan, possibly in concert with the U.S., as a way to gain political cover.”

How did Baird respond to this?

Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported, “Canada can teach the United States some lessons on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Sunday in a blunt rejoinder to recent chiding by the Obama administration on climate change. Baird told The Canadian Press that the U.S. should actually be following Canada’s lead on working to cut back on the use of coal-fired electricity generation.” Baird reportedly said, “We adopted the same goals and objectives in terms of climate change … We worked with the Obama administration and harmonized vehicle emission standards, light truck standards. We’re also taking concrete direct action with respect to dirty, coal fired electricity generation. Maybe the United States could join Canada on that file.”

Baird’s misstep isn’t even particularly truthful. Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart notes, “John Baird shouldn’t try to take credit for Ontario’s phase out of coal-fired electricity, although environmentalists would welcome federal assistance in making progress in other provinces. The reality, however, is that the federal coal regulations delay any serious action until after 2025.”

Even within the United States, reports the Toronto Star, “There was little sign Sunday that activists intended to balance the stop-the-pipeline rallying cry against calls for other measures, such as stricter rules on power-plant emissions. Though anti-fracking and anti-coal messages were evident, it was Keystone XL that served as the overwhelming mantra of the day.” That Toronto Star article also notes, “‘Obama’s pledge to act on climate change, together with the turnout today, makes all of the Canadian government lobbying efforts (for the Keystone XL pipeline) ring hollow. This pressure is rising and Keystone is at the heart of it,’ said Council of Canadians spokesperson Brent Patterson”.

In November 2011, President Obama delayed the decision on KXL until after the November 2012 presidential election. In recent weeks it has been reported that he would make his decision on the pipeline by March or April. But a Financial Post article on Friday now puts the timeframe for the decision sometime between June and September.