By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Canada have agreed joint steps to fight climate change, including cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and signing the Paris climate deal "as soon as feasible," the White House said on Thursday.
The agreement comes ahead of an Oval Office meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama at the White House.
The two countries are seeking to improve cooperation on energy after Obama last year rejected the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project, which was aimed at bringing heavy Canadian oil to the United States and was promoted by Trudeau's predecessor, Stephen Harper.
The countries committed to cutting emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025, to take steps to fight climate change in the Arctic, and to speed development of green technologies.
Under the agreement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin developing regulations for methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources immediately and "will move as expeditiously as possible to complete this process."
Meanwhile, Environment and Climate Change Canada "intends to publish an initial phase of proposed regulations by early 2017," and put in place national regulations in collaboration with provinces, territories, and indigenous groups.
The countries will also encourage state and provincial governments to share lessons learned about designing systems to put prices on emissions for carbon markets.
After the U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled to delay implementation of Obama's Clean Power Plan on fighting emissions from power plants, moving ahead on cutting methane emissions could help Washington meet its pledges at last year's global talks on climate in Paris. Obama has said he believes that plan is on secure legal grounds.
The United States and Canada also agreed on Thursday to work together to implement the Paris agreement and sign it "as soon as feasible."
They agreed to endorse the World Bank's Zero Routine Flaring initiative to reduce wasteful burning of natural gas at production fields, and to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, which are industrial gases with a high potential to trap the earth's heat.
In the Arctic, the countries agreed to set standards on shipping, fishing and oil and gas exploration and development and to base decisions on scientific evidence.
That development will occur "only when the highest safety and environmental standards are met," the agreement said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Alexander Smith and Bernadette Baum)