pelosi-nancy-cp-9100042

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shown in a file photo, has been hearing concerns about the oilsands during her visit to Ottawa. ((Louie Traub/Associated Press))

Canadian environmentalists say they are encouraged by meetings with U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, describing her as committed to reducing fossil fuels and interested in learning more about the impact of Canada's oilsands.

Several environmental and First Nations leaders met Thursday in Ottawa with Pelosi and Ed Markey, chair of the U.S. House of Representatives select committee on energy independence and global warming.

"They were very interested in what we had to say about the environmental impacts of the tarsands and the very, very damaging social impacts of the tarsands in the northern Alberta area," Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, told reporters after the meeting.

"We're very confident they're going to be taking our message back to the U.S."

He said Pelosi was in "listening mode," as opposed to offering her own positions, but she made it "very clear" she's committed to reducing fossil fuels. That commitment will have implications for Canada's oilsands, Smith said.

'Listening to our concerns'

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said he told Pelosi about health concerns in his community, which is near oilsands developments in northern Alberta. The community is concerned about high cancer rates and drinking water quality, among other things.

protest-oilsands-cp-9345544

A protester sits in front of a Canadian flag as she has molasses poured on her to simulate oil from Alberta's oilsands during a protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

"I think she found it kind of shocking," he said. "She was listening to our concerns and taking it all in. Our message to her was very clear that something had to be done."

Pelosi, in Ottawa for a conference of G8 Speakers, met with Premier Ed Stelmach on Wednesday. He stressed that the oilsands generate jobs, raise tax dollars and provide a reliable source of oil for North America that the U.S. relies on.

Stelmach emerged from the meeting, and a dinner, with a positive message.

"Now let's not be naive, one dinner many not alter or change a lot," he said Thursday in Calgary. "But we did have a significant agreement on a number of areas.

"They were very high on Alberta's position on investing much money in research and development. [Pelosi] spoke very highly of Alberta's carbon capture and storage program."

Both sides report positive meetings

The environmentalists said it's not surprising that they and Stelmach both had positive meetings with Pelosi. She emphasized she was in the meetings to listen to both sides of the debate, not take a stand, they said.

"But she also emphasized she cared deeply about the issue of climate change and thought it was a moral issue to take action on," said Graham Saul, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.

He said he can't see how Stelmach's approach to oilsands will jive with Pelosi's take.

"While she's trying to take the United States in one direction, Premier Stelmach is trying to take [Canada] in a different direction," Saul said. "It is impossible for Canada to do its fair share to fight climate change and allow the tarsands to expand in the manner they're currently expected to."

Pelosi has not spoken publicly about her Ottawa meetings. She only released a statement Wednesday night after her meetings with Stelmach, which was also attended by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Pelosi said the discussion confirmed that the U.S. and Canada "share a strong commitment to addressing climate change and energy security."

"We share much more than a border, and with respect to our energy future, we are in the same boat," she said.