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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The new U.S. envoy to Canada will tour Alberta's oil sands on Wednesday to help President Barack Obama's administration formulate policy on a major source of energy supply, but one tagged as having a large environmental impact.
David Jacobson, named as ambassador to Canada last month, said on Tuesday that officials in both countries recognized there must be a balance between the need for energy security and protecting the air, land and water.
"I've learned a lot about the tremendous strides that have been taken over the last several years with respect to improving the environmental record in treating the oil sands," Jacobson told reporters at a ceremony to welcome him to Calgary, the center of Canada's energy industry.
"I understand a good bit of work is still under way and I'm looking forward to going there tomorrow to learn more about it."
Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil and gas to the United States, and its oil sands in northern Alberta represent the biggest deposits of crude outside the Middle East.
But in the lead-up to international climate talks in Copenhagen in December, environmental groups such as Greenpeace have intensified campaigns to highlight the impact of oil sands developments on the fight against global warming.
The Canadian oil industry has also expressed worry that energy legislation being developed in Washington could mean new restrictions on oil sands shipments due to the developments' high carbon emissions.
Jacobson said the U.S. healthcare debate has eclipsed work on energy legislation in Congress, meaning the odds of major energy policy decisions being made in the near future are slim.
Senate Democrats recently unveiled their version of a climate change bill that was narrowly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. With a packed legislative agenda, however, it's unclear whether Congress will be able to vote on the bill before 2010.
"What I think the energy bill is ultimately going to look like is a work in progress," he said.
"But one of the things that I want to do here is ... to learn as much as I can so that I can pass the word back to my colleagues in Washington so that any decisions that they do make are as informed as they can possibly be."
Meanwhile, U.S. officials do not expect a deal with Canada soon on the controversial "Buy American" rule in economic stimulus spending in the United States, Jacobson said.
Canada aims to protect is businesses from the provision, which gives priority to U.S.-made products such as steel used in public works projects, under the $787 billion stimulus package.
"There's not an agreement as yet and nor do I think is one ... imminent," he said. "However, having said that, there have been a number of discussions, including very recent discussions, and people on both sides characterize those discussions as very constructive."
Editing by Rob Wilson