AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When it comes to both energy policy and environmental policy, the Keystone XL pipeline has proven to be one of the most contentious issues for President Obama. The State Department is expected to decide soon whether to give the pipeline final approval. It would carry oil from the tar sands of the Canadian province of Alberta all the way to the Gulf Coast for refining and export. Just this week, a coalition of environmental groups launched a new campaign to stop the pipeline, arguing in ads like this one that it's not in the national interest.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Keystone XL doesn't go to the U.S. It goes through the U.S., sending oil to places like China and Venezuela, putting us at risk while big oil gets the rewards.
CORNISH: Our next guest is likely to disagree with that. Getting this pipeline approved may be the most important issue for her. She is Alison Redford, the premier of Alberta. And she's here in D.C. on a lobbying trip. Premier Redford, thank you for being here.
ALISON REDFORD: Well, thank you very much for having me.
CORNISH: Now, first of all, obviously, you are here to argue that the pipeline is not only good for Canada but that it's good for the U.S. What's your argument there?
REDFORD: Well, the first thing that I think about is that we have an integrated economy. Canada and the U.S. have been trading partners, of course, for decades, and we've both thrived on that. We have an integrated energy system in terms of hydro, in terms of oil and gas. There are refineries in Canada and in the United States that have been built specifically to deal with product that comes out of both of our jurisdictions.
And what we also have, which we don't talk an awful lot about, is a network of pipelines throughout both of our countries that have allowed for these products to flow quite freely. We believe very strongly, based on our own experience in Alberta and our own regulatory process, that it's very possible to have both.
You know, we are very proud of our environmental record. We have a price on carbon, one of the only jurisdictions in North America that actually has a price on carbon that we reinvest in technology. We have invested in carbon capture and storage to develop technologies. We have targets with respect to our own emissions. And we know that it's important for us to be able to have both economic growth and to have environmental sustainability.
CORNISH: Now, I want to talk to you about some of your points here. To start, as you mentioned, there is a network of pipelines. And the Keystone XL is not the only option for expansion. So why does it have to go through the U.S. rather than, say, eastern or western Canada?
REDFORD: Well, it's a mess that it's going through the U.S. What we have is a system where, in the United States, there is a need for the product that we produce. It is consumed in the United States. This idea that it's simply a flow through isn't the case at all. It is certainly what opponents have been saying. But the fact is that we have a system where we are able to export product to refineries in the United States that upgrade that product and use it in the United States.
Some of it does go to export, but the idea that this product is simply flowing through the United States isn't true.
CORNISH: At the same time, the idea of the physical flow through has obviously become quite controversial, right? In 2010, there was a pipeline that spilled oil sands crude in Michigan's Kalamazoo River. And, of course, just last month, the Pegasus pipeline spilled also in the backyards of a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas. How do you respond to Americans' very real concerns about this?
REDFORD: Well, they are real concerns, and we acknowledge that as well. And what we know is that pipelines are the most effective and the most environmentally sustainable way to produce and to move product. And...
CORNISH: But people are also essentially arguing that the kind of oil that would be coming through that comes from Alberta is tougher to clean up.
REDFORD: Well, it's simply not the case. I mean, we've seen, of course, that there are these situations where there have been impacts. And we've also seen very successful mitigation with respect to those circumstances. What we also see when they happen is very strong regulations that are in place to ensure that industry supports community and deals with the cleanup.
The fact is that if we're going to have economic growth, and we're going to have energy development, we do have to acknowledge the fact that sometimes these unfortunate circumstances happen, and then we move on.
CORNISH: Talk a little bit more about the interest for Alberta. I mean, what do you tell pipeline opponents there about why this should be approved?
REDFORD: I would say there in Alberta, what we see mostly is people that understand that there's a connection between the growth of an energy industry, not just oil and gas industry, but an integrated energy industry not only in Alberta but throughout North America. So from our perspective, it's certainly important in terms of economic growth and jobs.
And it's also important to the United States. It's not an either/or proposition. If we look at the Midwest, there are people that are working in refineries in the Midwest as a result of product that's coming in from Canada. So this is really part of what an integrated economy needs to look like. I think it's important for us to understand that this isn't about one province producing a product. It's about an economy that's connected to the rest of North America.
CORNISH: Premier Alison Redford, thank you so much for speaking with me.
REDFORD: It was nice to talk to you.
CORNISH: Allison Redford is the premier of Alberta where the Keystone XL pipeline would originate. We checked with our environmental reporters about one thing Premier Redford said about cleaning up spills of tar sands crude. She said it is not harder to clean than other kinds of oil.
But last summer, NPR reported that the spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan had become the most expensive onshore cleanup ever. The crude is heavy, and it sinks to the bottom of waterways. And Environmental Protection Agency official told NPR that experts had to develop new techniques to clean up the oil.
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