Oil sands fight heats up in Washington as climate debate edges forward

"We believe it's critical to have an objective, independent Canadian policy organization providing factual information on the environmental impacts of oil sands development to U.S. decision-makers," said Marlo Raynolds, Pembina’s executive director, in a prepared statement.

Producing Alberta’s oil sands is very energy-intensive, which leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions than development of several other types of oil. Pembina and other environmental groups also criticize the effects of the development on forests and wildlife.

But advocates of the oil sands – a huge resource that provides a growing source of supply from a stable U.S. ally – say the industry is making progress toward reducing its environmental footprint.

Droitsch said that overall, the group is establishing an on-the-ground presence in Washington because Canadian climate policy is tethered to U.S. decisions.

"President Obama has made it clear that one of his next top priorities will be having Congress pass climate and energy legislation," she said in a statement Thursday.

"Our federal government's decision to cede leadership and responsibility to the U.S. Congress on key climate issues makes it critical that we assess and analyze the implications of U.S. policy from a Canadian perspective,” Droitsch added.