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Republicans more 'receptive' to oilsands than Democrats: Alberta official

Things are looking up for Alberta's oilsands in the United States with Republicans poised to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans are so far "more receptive" than Democrats about the oilsands, Gary Mar, Alberta's representative in Washington, said following a recent meeting with officials in John Boehner's office.

Boehner, an Ohio congressman, will become speaker of the House in January.

"I found them very well-informed and their knowledge of energy issues was very good ... they were well-versed, well-briefed," Mar said.

The hordes of Republican legislators headed to Capitol Hill in January have effectively killed any chance of new climate change legislation being passed in the U.S. in the next two years.

It's a state of affairs that has given the Canadian government some breathing room as it attempts to co-ordinate its own energy policies with those of the United States, while also providing the oilsands — branded "dirty oil" by many congressional Democrats — a new lease on life in the absence of any punitive laws being passed any time soon.

Mar said he's "encouraged by the level of interest and the level of knowledge that this incoming group may have with respect to energy."

He was quick to point out, however, that the House is merely one hurdle facing the oilsands, which are the largest source of crude for the United States.

Canadian and Albertan officials still have to work to convince the Obama administration, the Democratic-controlled Senate and state officials that the oilsands are "a resource that is developed in a responsible manner, and it's an important source of energy for U.S. energy security and for world energy security," Mar said.

"Our work may be easier in the House of Representatives but that means there are other places that we have to focus our attention on, both in the administration and at the state level."

Environmental groups, meantime, are continuing to fight against the oilsands, while the Obama administration is toughening up greenhouse-gas regulations via the Environmental Protection Agency rather than going through Congress.

On Thursday, the Sierra Club released a report entitled "Toxic Tar Sands: Profiles from the Front Lines," saying Americans are facing serious health and environmental risks from the oilsands.

Some U.S. state governments are also putting up roadblocks for the oilsands by enforcing low-carbon fuel standards or making attempts to stop pipelines that will carry Alberta crude to refineries in the U.S. Midwest and the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. State Department is currently considering a proposal for TransCanada's (TSX: TRP.TO) Keystone XL pipeline, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently signalling the pipeline would likely get the green light.

Pro-oilsands lobbyists have been hard at work making their case as well. This week, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has had executives in three U.S. cities — New York, Washington and Chicago — to discuss the oilsands with environmental groups, business leaders and other stakeholders.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has also raised the prospect of hosting American lawmakers who want to see the oilsands up close.

Two months ago, three U.S. senators made the trip to the oilsands: Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia along with Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina.

That visit prompted Graham to describe the oilsands as a "national treasure."

If necessary, Stelmach said, Alberta will invite American legislators to come north once again.

"We will obviously make the offer," he said this week.

For more from the Canadian Press click here, or scroll down the Tyee's main page.

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