(Adds finance minister's comments, background)
By Euan Rocha
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, April 25 Canada remains
confident Washington will ultimately approve the Keystone XL
pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast, two prominent cabinet ministers
said on Friday, adding that the latest U.S. delay is political
and not based on environmental concerns.
In his first public remarks on the controversial project,
the country's new energy minister, Greg Rickford, said he hoped
the Obama administration will "depoliticize" its decision on
Keystone XL and give it the green light.
"On the Keystone, we're still very hopeful ... that this
will go ahead sooner rather than later, and it will simply add
to the economic benefits of pipeline transmission of energy
products," Rickford told reporters after a speech in the Toronto
suburb of Mississauga on Friday.
"Obviously we hope sooner rather than later that this is
depoliticized, if you will, and that the communities along the
pipeline, which include Canada and the United States, can reap
the tremendous economic benefits of Keystone," he said.
Rickford was reacting to Washington's move last week to
further delay a decision on whether to approve TransCanada
Corp's $5.4 billion Keystone XL project, which would
transport crude from the Alberta oil sands and northern U.S.
states to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
No U.S. decision on the proposed pipeline is now likely
until after the midterm elections in November.
By linking to refiners in the Gulf Coast, the 1,200-mile
(1,900-km) pipeline would provide a boost to the oil sands of
the western province of Alberta, where heavy oil is abundant but
requires the burning vast amounts of fossil fuels to extract.
The project has galvanized the environmental movement, which
says consuming carbon fuel to extract oil sands crude will
worsen climate change.
Environmentalists opposed to Keystone are part of U.S.
President Barack Obama's liberal-leaning base and approval of
the project now might have resulted in Obama's Democrats losing
votes in the Nov. 4 congressional elections.
The oil industry argues projects such as Keystone can reduce
U.S. reliance on Middle East oil, while allowing the United
States to partner with one of its closest allies, Canada.
The State Department said last week the delay was to extend
the period for government agencies to comment on the project,
citing a need to wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court settles a
dispute over what path the pipeline should take.
Rickford was appointed to his new portfolio last month and
his main mandate is to win support for Keystone as well as other
pipelines within Canada.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who was Rickford predecessor as
energy minister and who aggressively lobbied in the United
States for Keystone XL, told an audience in the Canadian oil
industry capital of Calgary on Friday that the government "will
never give up on Alberta".
"We will continue to advocate for Keystone until it is
approved, as we will advocate for other environmentally
responsible projects in the national interest," he said.
Oliver slammed what he called "powerful and well-funded
Americans" who have opposed oil sands development and the
pipeline, without naming anyone in particular.
California billionaire Tom Steyer, a donor to the Democrats,
is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally
friendly U.S. candidates and has personally asked the president
to reject the Keystone pipeline.
"On the merits, they have picked the wrong target," Oliver
said, arguing that U.S. coal-fired electricity emits more
greenhouse gases than the oil sands.
"The Keystone decision was political. Everything is in place
for a positive national interest determination but politics
intervened," he said.
(Additional reporting by Nia William; Writing by Louise Egan;
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama; and Peter Galloway)