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Premier braces for Oilsands showdown
Stelmach admits Alberta 'in crosshairs' as he heads to Wyoming to address western U.S. governors meeting

Archie McLean, The Edmonton Journal

Published: 11:22 am

EDMONTON - As he did earlier this year in Washington, Premier Ed Stelmach will face oilsands opposition next week when he meets with western U.S. governors in Wyoming.

A coalition of American and Canadian environmental groups is taking out an ad Monday in Wyoming's largest newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune, warning of the dangers of "the most environmentally destructive project on Earth."

They are also sending letters to the governors attending the meeting, urging them to raise environmental concerns with Stelmach and his Saskatchewan counterpart, Brad Wall.

Stelmach said Friday it's exactly the reason the province needs to take its own message to the governors.

"We're now in the crosshairs for many of the NGOs, not only in the United States, but around the world," he said.

"And we're going to see more of it and we have to get the correct information out there. Where we have to improve, we will improve. But on the other hand there's so much misinformation (out there)."

Stelmach, who will be joined at the meeting by Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton, said he's hoping the governors can come up with a co-ordinated plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in western North America. Alberta favours a plan that relies mostly on capturing carbon and storing it underground.

But Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, with the Natural Resources Defence Council, one of the U.S. environmental groups sponsoring the ad, said the government needs to move beyond rhetoric on carbon capture.

"They're proposed, but we never hear about actual funding, and actual timelines, and actual plans for making them happen in practice," she said.

Stelmach heads south after a difficult week for the province's oilsands industry. An adviser to presidential candidate Barack Obama said it's an "open question" whether oilsands oil would be part of Obama's plan to move his country away from carbon-intensive fuels.

A group of U.S. mayors also passed a resolution urging members not to buy fuel for their municipalities made from Alberta bitumen. The resolution isn't binding, and many have pointed out that it's impossible to know what percentage of gasoline from the pump comes from the oilsands.

Casey-Lefkowitz, who is based in Washington, said the opposition is the result of a brighter international spotlight on the oilsands.

"The more people know about the way in which the tarsands are being extracted, the more they are horrified that that's what we've come to," she said. "They really see this as a path backwards instead of forwards."

But Stelmach said the United States has long been an ally of Canada and shouldn't turn it's back on the county now.

"We've been good trading partners, we're protecting each other in the Middle East and in Aghanistan," Stelmach said. "We've been together in both world wars. I think we have such a geographical blessing. That's the message I'll be bringing to Wyoming."

Alberta is launching a $25-million public relations campaign to sell the province's message at home and abroad. The province's oil and gas industry also started its own website -- canadasoilsands.ca -- to get its message out about the oilsands. A recent Statistics Canada report says Alberta emitted 230 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2005, roughly 30 per cent of the national total.

The province also accounts for 64 per cent of Canada's primary energy production and more than 16 per cent of its GDP.

At the recent western premiers meeting, Alberta and Saskatchewan pledged to lead the country on a carbon capture and storage plan. But all around them, western jurisdictions are preparing for a different solution -- a carbon trading market.

Seven states, including California, Washington and Oregon, as well as B.C., Manitoba and Quebec, are part of a coalition called the Western Climate Initiative. They met last month in Salt Lake City to hash out the details of the market. It has the potential to drive up costs of Alberta's electricity, which is produced largely through burning coal.

Stelmach said Alberta has friends in some of the energy producing states, particularly Wyoming, which has its own shale oil deposits, similar to the oilsands.

Many of the agenda items for the three- day meeting, which starts Sunday, are familiar to Albertans: water and wildlife conservation, power-line construction and of course, climate change.

During his trip to Washington, D.C. in January, Stelmach was dogged by environmental protesters, including a person in a polar bear costume. An environmental coalition took out an ad in a D.C. newspaper directed at U.S. lawmakers.

The new ad pokes fun at Alberta and Saskatchewan and even makes reference to the 500 ducks that recently died on a Syncrude tailings pond.

"Dear Friends," the ad begins. "Wyoming is beautiful, but let's have the next meeting in Canada's tarsands. We can watch as pristine boreal forests and wetlands are destroyed to produce some of the dirtiest oil. Sunsets over giant toxic waste lagoons are spectacular -- just hope the ducks don't land as they fly over looking for a place to nest."

amclean@thejournal.canwest.com

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