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Canada spent $1M to lobby American lawmakers on carbon capture and storage

OTTAWA -- Canada has spent $1 million on a travelling salesman peddling a fledgling, still unproven technology that has been a darling of the Conservative government, internal documents show.

The federal government hired a special adviser on climate change and energy to lobby key players in the United States over energy and environmental issues. The job description includes promoting a made-in-Canada technique of pumping greenhouse gas deep underground.

The adviser is also tasked with gathering intelligence on developments in the U.S. to report to officials back home.

Marc Lepage, Canada's former consul general and top trade official in San Francisco, was picked for the job. His term was to expire at the end of March, and it's unclear if it has been extended. Neither Foreign Affairs nor Environment Canada responded to questions. Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show just what the government had in mind when it created the job.

"The special adviser will act as a point person on Canada-U.S. energy and climate change issues for the (Clean Energy Dialogue) in Washington, to facilitate heightened advocacy efforts within Congress and the (Obama) administration," reads a January 2010 document.

Other duties are to "facilitate the implementation of various project and policy initiatives. . . such as carbon capture and storage," "build and maintain relationships with key energy players in the Unites States," and "expand Canada's voice within the Unites States regulatory processes impacting Canada."

The budget for the extra lobbying was more than $1 million over two years, documents show. That covers the salaries of Lepage and an assistant, and other costs related to the job.

The need for the job arose from the so-called Clean Energy Dialogue that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced two years ago with Barack Obama during the U.S. president's maiden trip to Ottawa.

Conservative cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats are working with their American counterparts on a host of environmental and energy issues. Chief among them is carbon capture and storage. The federal and Alberta governments have poured billions into the fledgling technology. One of Canada's goals for the Clean Energy Dialogue is to promote widespread use of carbon capture and storage.

Canada is home to the world's largest carbon capture and storage project. An aging oilfield in the southern Saskatchewan town of Weyburn buys the odourless and colourless gas from a coal gasification plant in North Dakota and pipes it into an underground reservoir to draw more oil out of the ground.

The Harper government wants to market the technology around the world, particularly south of the border. But it's not clear that efforts to reach out to the Americans by Lepage and others at the Canadian embassy in Washington are paying off. Environment Canada hired a consultant to interview participants in the Clean Energy Dialogue. Notes from those interviews were recently obtained by The Canadian Press along with the consultant's August 2010 report. There were complaints that embassy staff couldn't set up meetings with key U.S. officials.

"Although meetings are happening, concern expressed by staff that some of the most important meetings are not being facilitated and access to U.S. officials is not being greatly enhanced through this avenue," the report says.

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