Interpreting Ottawa: A Conversation with Ex-Ambassador Paul Cellucci

Interpreting Ottawa: A Conversation with Ex-Ambassador Paul Cellucci

February 25, 2009 16:03

Our special counsel, Paul Cellucci, is the former ambassador to Canada.  We caught him right after President Obama’s trip to Canada and asked a few questions.


What’s the bottom line on President Obama’s meetings with Prime Minister Harper?


Clearly the President went to Canada to collaborate and not to confront. We saw that dramatically in his comments on the scary Buy American provisions of the stimulus bill. He told Canadians that worldwide recession is not the time to start restricting trade. He pledged that the U.S. would abide by all of its international obligations. Given all the campaign talk about renegotiating the NAFTA treaty, this was received as very good news.


Where did the U.S. come down on oil sands?


In the discussions of U.S.-Canada energy and environmental issues, the most significant thing the President did was to compare oil sands to the situation with coal in the U.S. He noted that both have a big carbon footprint, but that they are providing the energy we need to power our economy. He said we need to work together on developing alternative energy sources and on improving carbon sequestration and other technologies that can contain the damage of carbon-heavy fuels. He noted that NAFTA partner Mexico is also doing a lot on work in these areas.


There was much concern in the Canadian press that President Obama wanted to restrict imports of oil from oil sands. Now it looks like we’re not going down that road, just as we're not going to shut down all our coal-generated electricity plants overnight and destroy our economy. He understands that we get 20% of our imported oil from Canada. More than from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or any foreign country. And a lot of that comes from oil sands.


U.S. attitude to oil sands is a very sensitive issue in Canada, especially since Henry Waxman took over leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman led the charge against so-called "dirty fuels" purchases by the U.S. government. He is responsible for the Section 526 provision of the Defense Authorization Bill that forbids the military from buying oil sands oil.


What is the status of U.S.-Canada cooperation on cap-and-trade plans?


There is no formal agreement yet but they are definitely talking about working together on climate change issues. It’s pretty clear to me that the President is going to continue to make climate change a top priority, despite the current focus on the economy. He mentioned it four times in his Inaugural Address. This is a priority for him.


Actually, the U.S. and Canada have been working on these issues continuously since 2001, when they formed working groups. Along with Mexico, there is a trilateral agreement which serves as a framework for stimulating renewable energy development, innovation in clean coal and carbon capture, improving electric transmission capacity and harmonizing energy standards in the NAFTA countries.


Given what the President of Mexico, as well as Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. are saying, there’s a lot of institutional momentum for a coordinated North American approach to climate change and environmental issues.



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