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WASHINGTON -- With his country's foreign minister in tow, Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer walked the marble corridors of the Capitol on Wednesday pitching the prize his nation is seeking: the Keystone XL pipeline.
"It always makes more sense, in our view, to get energy from middle North America than the Middle East," Doer said after a session with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a Keystone supporter.
Backing a project bitterly opposed by environmentalists is something of a shift for Doer. During his three terms as premier of Manitoba, he built a reputation as a champion of combating global warming. He backed the Kyoto Protocol to cut global carbon emissions, pushed to shut coal-fired power plants and promoted renewable energy such as wind and hydro power. He was named by Businessweek in 2005 as one of 20 people leading the fight against climate change.
'It always makes more sense, in our view, to get energy from middle North America than the Middle East' -- Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer
Now Doer is on the other side of an issue that has inflamed his one-time climate allies.
"I'm just trying to put the puck in the net," Doer said in an interview last month at the expansive Canadian Embassy in Washington, a little more than a slapshot from the Capitol and decorated with drawings of Niagara Falls, a walrus and a polar bear.
While environmentalists consider Keystone an assault on the climate, Canada is counting on TransCanada Corp.'s $5.4-billion project to connect its vast reserves of crude oil to the world's largest refining centre along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline would help oilsands developers reach their goal of doubling production by 2025 and raise the prices they are paid for the fossil fuel -- putting pressure on Doer and his colleagues to make a case in Washington.
Visitor logs show Doer has been a frequent visitor to the White House. He also meets regularly with U.S. and Canadian media outlets as well as labour groups and government agencies, highlighting the benefits of Keystone to both countries.
In October, the embassy co-hosted an event with an oil- industry group whose members include Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Dow Chemical Co. Wednesday, Doer took Foreign Minister John Baird to Capitol Hill, where he met with Democrats and Republicans.
"He is an immensely pragmatic politician," said Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, which opposes the pipeline. "As premier of Manitoba, being good on climate is good politics. It's not part of the job description to be Canada's ambassador to Washington."
In the interview at the embassy, Doer dismissed opposition to Keystone as uninformed and driven by an "environmental industry" in Washington that has turned the controversy into a tool for fundraising. He said he promoted oil and gas development when he was premier, too.
"My view is the oil is coming from Canada now," he said. "It's just a question of how it gets there."
Trains that fill a gap in transport capacity release more greenhouse gases and aren't as safe as pipelines, Doer said. Canada is a reliable U.S. ally, and its oil will displace imports from Venezuela, which isn't, Doer said.
With greying hair and a slightly grizzled voice, Doer, 65, has built his career, from president of the Manitoba Government Employees' Association to chief of his nation's most important embassy, by nurturing relationships. He employs humour, energy and a deft personal touch.
Keystone is testing his salesmanship skills. Keystone XL critics, including supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama, say it would deepen climate risks by promoting development of Alberta's carbon-heavy oilsands. Obama said in a June speech on climate change he wouldn't back the project if it would significantly increase carbon-dioxide emissions.
A draft environmental analysis prepared for the U.S. State Department said it wouldn't, because Alberta's oilsands would be developed even if the pipeline didn't go forward. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called for a fuller review. Environmental groups also challenged the finding.
-- Bloomberg News