OTTAWA — One of the most powerful lawmakers in the United States is going to hear about the Alberta oilsands from both supporters and detractors.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other U.S. officials are meeting Canada’s environment minister and the premiers of three provinces at a private dinner at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.
They’ll be joined by energy industry executives, environmentalists and First Nations groups.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he won’t waste an opportunity to promote free trade to Pelosi, the third-ranking politician in the U.S.
“I think we should take every chance we can to make the case for freer trade, to make the case against American protectionism,” Wall said.
“It’s a chance to … certainly provide some information to our friends from the United States about the dynamic trade relationship we have and how important Saskatchewan is in that, in terms of energy, in terms of food, and we’ll be making that case with the Speaker and the congressmen that are here from the delegation.”
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach wants to assure Pelosi that his province’s oilsands are being developed responsibly.
“Our goal there is to appeal to her sense of reason, to communicate very clearly that we continue to be focused on environmental improvement in developing the oilsands,” Stelmach said Tuesday.
“Environment is the first and most important issue.”
Pelosi is joined by Ed Markey, chair of an important energy committee and co-author of an environmental bill working its way through the U.S. Senate.
Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner had planned to tag along, but he wasn’t able to.
A statement from Pelosi’s office says they have “come to learn and listen at a time where the debate in Canada continues over oilsands and the future of energy security in North America.”
Her office declined interview requests.
Although Alberta officials have often met prominent American politicians, including former vice-president Dick Cheney, this is their first meeting with Pelosi.
Alberta maintains an office in the U.S. capital to help get out its message on the energy industry.
But several environmental groups accuse Stelmach of “misleading” Pelosi and Markey about environmental accomplishments in the Alberta oilsands.
“His comments seem particularly galling given that his government was recently caught out on one of its core lines of defence of the tar sands industry,” said Rick Smith of the group Environmental Defence.
“And that line of defence has been, until recently, that pollution in the Athabasca River is natural.”
A recent study found high levels of heavy metals such as lead and mercury in Alberta’s Athabasca River system are linked to oilsands facilities.