After last week's release of the State Department's draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, what are the Canadian government's expectations for how the Obama administration will move forward with the pipeline decision? During today's OnPoint, Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States, reacts to the report and discusses the future of the oil sands if the United States does not approve the pipeline. Doer also discusses the impact of oil sands development on his country's efforts to reduce emissions.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ambassador Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for coming on the show.
Gary Doer: Well, thank you for having me, Monica. Appreciate it.
Monica Trauzzi: Mr. Ambassador, thank you. Mr. Ambassador, the U.S. State Department last week released its draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. What is the Canadian government's response to the draft?
Gary Doer: Well, first of all, we respect the process, which includes public comments and public hearing, and then a final recommendation to the president. We live in a democracy as well, and we know sometimes that can be very feisty. Having said that, I thought the report was very consistent with 2011. We thought it would be. We didn't think the science had changed a lot. We thought there was actually improvements on some of the sustainable side of the oil sands. And we thought it had a lot of common sense as well as science. In other words, if the oil is coming out of the ground, it's going to be harvested, and it won't have therefore an impact on GHGs if it goes in a pipeline, or if it goes by train to another market.
Monica Trauzzi: In light of the State Department report, what do you believe the chances are now that the pipeline will be approved?
Gary Doer: Well, we had a good State Department report in 2011, and as we say in Canada, we didn't put the puck in the net. So we didn't get it done. But the concerns that the president raised in 2011 about the route through Nebraska, after the governor of Nebraska put a halt on that route in his own state, we think it's been amended properly. The Department of State worked with the Department of Environment in Nebraska to evaluate it together, and we think the numbers on the environment side and on the economic benefit side were pretty positive.
Monica Trauzzi: What's happening behind the scenes within your government right now in terms of engaging the Obama administration on the pipeline in order to get the outcome that you guys are hoping for?
Gary Doer: Well, we make most of our comments, almost all of them, in public. There's no question that what you see in public, Secretary of State Kerry's comments, Minister Baird's comments, is what you see in private. There is a legal process. We certainly don't want to offend the legal process in the United States of a presidential permit. The next stage of this after the State Department's come out is not only the public hearings, but the president must determine is this in the national interest of the United States. And when you look at what is in the national interest of the United States, we believe that obtaining more energy independence from Venezuela and the Middle East is in the long term energy interests of the United States, with Canadian oil.
Monica Trauzzi: State's report notes that extracting, refining, and moving the oil sands product would produce more emissions than other types of oil. How does that reflect your government's commitment, as well as the U.S.'s commitment, to reducing consumption of fossil fuels, and also reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020?
Gary Doer: Well, there's a lot of questions in that. Good question. One, on reducing fossil, on reducing our emissions, we've signed onto the Copenhagen Agreement with the United States. We started with light vehicle emissions standards, the two stages, one of the most radical reductions in GHGs of any action, certainly taken by the president and matched by the prime minister of Canada. It's good for cleaner air and cleaner water, and it's also good for selling more cars, because of more fuel efficiency. We've also moved ahead with black carbon, and we've moved ahead on areas that the United States is looking at right now. We have brought in regulations on coal. Now coal in Canada only represents about 13 percent of our electrical generation. We have over 60 percent renewable in Canada. It's about 40 percent of electricity here in the United States. So we're taking action on coal, but we're starting from a lower base, a lower challenge, I guess you will, but, on coal. On the issue of the State Department's analysis, in 2011, the numbers that were contained in the report, the same numbers were used in 2013. We would note that Daniel Yergin's new numbers, who's considered an expert by all of us, I think, have Canadian oil getting better. The emissions right now from Canadian oil are lower than what they were in the 2011 report, lower than Venezuelan crude, and lower than some of the thermal oil from California.
Monica Trauzzi: Bill McKibben, an environmentalist here in the United States, who is strongly opposed to the pipeline, has said that the Canadian government overstates its record on reducing emissions. He's calling it ham-handed and desperate. What is your response to accusations that the government is not doing enough on emissions reduction?
Gary Doer: Well, I don't think it's ham-handed to have 64 percent of your electricity from renewable energy. We would compare that very favorably with other states and other countries. Having said that, we're glad that he lives in Vermont, and we're glad that he gets Hydro-Quebec for his electricity, and we would say to him, if other states want to buy renewable energy for Canada, we think that's good due diligence, and the electricity that he has in Vermont, we hope it's generated by clean, renewable hydro power from Canada.
Monica Trauzzi: Can Alberta still expand production without the U.S.'s help, or is the U.S. the only destination market for this oil sands?
Gary Doer: Well, right now the system of trade is set up north and south, and in fact, that was a demand the United States made during the NAFTA trade negotiations, to have less reliance on the Middle East and more reliance on Canada. And so that was something that they wanted, and we of course were part of that partnership. In terms of oil itself, the world has higher demands on oil. Even though both in Canada and the United States, our per capita consumption, with vehicle emissions standards, is going to continue to go down, the biggest demand in the world is China and India, but the United States still has a gap, a great innovations in the United States on energy, but it still will have a gap over the next 25 years on being able to supply oil domestically, and that's why, again, when you look at the State Department report, they basically say there is the market need for the refineries in the Gulf Coast to have crude from Canada that would displace Venezuelan oil in the short term, and make the United States less reliant on the Middle East.
Monica Trauzzi: Has the Canadian government had conversations with other governments, keeping in mind the possibility that the pipeline through the United States might not be approved?
Gary Doer: Well, if the pipeline is not approved, it might be as it's being now. And don't forget, this also includes Bakken oil. The pipeline is always cited by opponents as, quote, foreign oil. About 20, up to 20 percent of the oil, and we don't consider ourselves foreign. We consider ourselves neighbors. But notwithstanding that definition, you've got Bakken oil from Saskatchewan, Montana, and North Dakota. Now that oil in North Dakota, that oil was 12 percent on trains and trucks 2 years ago. It's now 60 percent on trains and trucks. So people that are opposed to the pipeline, are they in favor of higher greenhouse gases, transporting oil on trucks and trains? Now as somebody that actually drives through North Dakota, as a neighbor, there's a lot of trucks on Highway 2. I invite some of the people that are opposed to the pipeline to drive down Highway 2 a little bit and see what's really going on, instead of what they read about.
Monica Trauzzi: So what are the plans for where this oil is going to go if the administration does not approve Keystone?
Gary Doer: It's a world product with world demand, and we will, oil will get to market. It will get to market in the Gulf Coast, either through a pipeline or through, as the State Department said, train or truck, or it will go to other markets.
Monica Trauzzi: The U.S. administration, as you said earlier, is now looking towards the public debate on Keystone XL. There's a 45 day comment period in which they'll hear from the public. And you were recently quoted as saying you believe a silent majority of Americans is in favor of the Keystone Pipeline. What did you mean by that, and do you think that silent majority, as you suggested, will be making the case for the pipeline during this comment period?
Gary Doer: Well, one of the great things about politics, having been in public life myself, is you not only have to speak, but you've got to listen. And you've, the public of the United States, every poll, Washington Post, "Fox News Today," I don't know whether I'm quoting competitors of yours, so I'll be careful, all the media polls, Rasmussen and other, other agencies have come out with polls, two to one or three to one in favor. I mean, it's not, and that's not even a tough question. Do you want to approve the Keystone pipeline, yes or no? If you were to ask people, do you want oil from Canada or do you want it from Hugo Chávez, you'd probably get even a higher poll result. Now there are people opposed to it. The well-meaning people, we're with them on climate change. We just think they're, you know, taking the wrong option to make this the so-called cause célèbre for the White House and the president. We believe the president can achieve his climate change objectives, and we're proud to be part of that. We also believe he can achieve his promise to make the United States energy independent of the Middle East and Venezuela by using oil in his neighborhood, starting with the United States, but also Canada and Mexico.
Monica Trauzzi: If the pipeline is not approved, will it sour the relationship between Prime Minister Harper and President Obama?
Gary Doer: You know, they work together on so many important issues. They work together, we're working together in Afghanistan right now. We worked together in Libya. We're working together with all kinds of people today in Washington about what we can or can't do to make sanctions work so Iran won't obtain a nuclear weapon. We, you know, the media concentrates on this issue, but the two leaders are spending their time keeping our own country safe and trying to keep the world safer, and that's what they're spending their time on. So we think it keeps it a little more secure with energy security, but when the president calls the prime minister, he responds as a good neighbor. We expect the same thing from the president with his neighbor in Canada.
Monica Trauzzi: There are efforts in Congress right now to move forward with legislation that would force approval of the pipeline. How could these efforts affect the future of the pipeline, and do you support these efforts?
Gary Doer: Well, I'm not going to get in the middle of a, you know, the debate between the Hill and the White House. I think it helps us to have a bipartisan approach on the Hill, when you have Democrats and Republicans saying this is good for America, this is good for Bakken oil, this is good for our neighborhood, good for jobs, good for energy security. It's helpful. But this is a vote of one person. It's called a presidential permit, but I think he listens to the voices of Americans, and I think he listens to the voices of his neighbors. He's listening to the environmental concerns. He's listening to the energy security concerns. He'll listen to the Hill. And hopefully, having read the State Department report, which I know he will do, the common sense and science in that report will inform his decision that this project is in the national interest of the United States. It doesn't make any sense at all to have only one-third of this pipeline now, the southern portion has been approved by him. The northern portion is being built in Canada. This missing link is energy efficient, it's safer than other modes of transportation, so we think he'll come to that conclusion.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, Mr. Ambassador. We will end it right there. Thank you for your time.
Gary Doer: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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