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Canada leads U.S. on cutting back the use of dirty coal, Baird says

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OTTAWA - 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 was responding to U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson who told The Canadian Press separately last week that President Barack Obama's State of the Union address calling for swift action on climate change should also be interpreted as a challenge to Ottawa.

"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," Baird said Sunday in a telephone interview from Lima, Peru.

"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 was mindful that environmentalists were descending Sunday on Washington for a major protest of Canada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf coast.

Following a similar protest last year, Obama postponed the controversial Keystone decision until after the November presidential election.

The Harper government has for years said it would remain in lockstep with the U.S. on climate change, but Baird said Canada has gone even further on coal.

Baird's defence of Canada's environmental record appears to be part of a renewed initiative by the Harper government to burnish Canada's climate credentials as Keystone's future once again hangs in the balance.

"We're the only country in the world that's committed to getting out of the dirty coal electricity generation business," Baird said.

"These are real meaningful steps that will either meet or even exceed the work that's been done thus far in the United States."

A spokesman for Greenpeace Canada, however, said the federal government was not responsible for the coal generation reductions.

"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," Keith Stewart said in an email.

"The reality, however, is that the federal coal regulations delay any serious action until after 2025."

The coal lobby was one of the many interests to which Obama was beholden as he fought for re-election last year. Coal is a major industry in the key swing states in the U.S. Midwest, which Obama counted on to win back the White House.

But the coal lobby now fears that Obama will take a harder line on their industry, now that he is secure in a second term. It points to the omission of coal in his State of the Union address as he touted the possibilities of wind and solar energy alternatives.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been a climate change crusader, was non-committal on the fate of the Keystone project during a joint news conference with Baird in Washington earlier this month.

All Kerry would say is that a decision is coming soon.

Baird reiterated Sunday that the pipeline is good for job creation in the both countries, as well as for weaning the U.S. off of less secure sources of oil in the Arab world and Venezuela, which he visits this coming week.

"They (the U.S.) are our best trading partner, and if you want to create jobs, and you want to have energy security for North America, obviously the pipeline is a central part of that," said Baird.

Environment Minister Peter Kent also said last week that it won't take much work to boost Canada's credibility in the U.S. on climate change.

"We're doing a lot. Our American friends know that.''

But the Harper government is clearly bristling at the messaging coming out of Washington since Obama's re-election, and following last week's State of the Union, on the need to combat climate change.

"We all need to do as much as we can. And that is true in your country and in mine,'' Jacobson told The Canadian Press after the speech.

"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."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that he sent a follow-up letter to Jacobson on Friday seeking clarification of his comments.

"We, in Canada, do have to do a better job in getting our message out. We have a record on the environment here. It needs to be better. We're working on that," said Wall.

"But we also haven't done a very good job of telling our story."

Wall and 10 Republican governors sent a letter to the White House last month urging Keystone's approval.

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