Environmental Groups Seek Climate Push From Trudeau Visit

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By Dean Scott

March 7 — Environmental groups are hoping to get a big climate change announcement during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to the White House March 10, one they hope would ban future Arctic oil and gas drilling, accelerate regulatory efforts to cut methane from the oil and gas sector, and commit the U.S. and Canada to new clean energy cooperation.

The March 10 meeting—in which President Barack Obama will host a Canadian leader for a state dinner for the first time in two decades—comes on the heels of several climate initiatives that Trudeau has announced since he toppled conservative leader Stephen Harper last fall.

Harper oversaw Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and pushed Obama without success to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council are pressing the two leaders to permanently bar future oil and gas development to the Arctic. The U.S. Interior Department is on the verge of releasing its proposed five-year leasing plan covering leases through 2022 and is under intense pressure to essentially put the region off-limits to drilling.

“We're looking at the dawn of a new level of cooperation” between the two nations, Franz Matzner, director of NRDC's Beyond Oil Initiative, told reporters during a March 7 conference call. One top priority, Matzner said, is the ban on Arctic drilling.

“Put an end to oil and gas development in the Arctic entirely,” he said.

Environmental groups said they are hoping for significant bilateral announcements from the March 10 meeting, which would come one week after Trudeau cut a climate deal with Canada's provincial and territorial leaders calling for exploring a carbon price to fight climate change .

The March 3 Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change called for adopting a “broad range of domestic measures, including carbon pricing mechanisms” to build on Canada's vow to cut its emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the pledge it put toward the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Vancouver Declaration fell short of committing to a specific carbon price, however.

Methane Commitment Sought

Jake Schmidt, NRDC's international program director, said there is hope the two leaders will jump-start efforts to cut methane from existing oil and gas operations with a cooperative announcement. “There are lots of rumors that this is on the table” for the Trudeau visit, Schmidt said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize rules to curb the emissions from those operations and landfills later this year .

Other environmental advocates also are calling for increased coordination and expansion of electric vehicle charging stations, including the potential for bulk procurement of charging equipment by both nations to drive down costs.

The Trudeau-Obama meeting also could touch on long-standing trade disputes between the two North American Free Trade Agreement partners, including within the softwood lumber trade, as well as work on implementing a preclearance agreement to facilitate trade and travel between the two countries.

The White House is not tipping its hand on what declarations or other agreements it hopes to reach during Trudeau's visit. But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested the climate issue is a rich vein for possible collaboration.

From Obama's first meeting with Trudeau in the Philippines during the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, “it was clear that there were a number of issues where the United States and Canada very effectively cooperate,” Earnest told reporters March 4. “And countering climate change is an important one,” the spokesman said, noting that both leaders have highlighted the need to implement policies “to counter the threat from climate change.”

There “may be an opportunity for the United States and Canada to coordinate even more effectively our policies when it comes to fighting climate change,” Earnest said of the upcoming meeting between the two leaders.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com