Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice expects a North American cap-and-trade plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions will move to the back burner if Republicans make expected gains Tuesday in U.S. midterm elections.

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Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice says the government won't move by itself on cap-and-trade legislation to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

"I don't know if this Congress would take it off the table completely," Prentice told CBC News while in China. "I think it's more the case that it would be on the back burner for a continued period of time."

Cap-and-trade legislation would allow Canadian and American companies to buy and sell emission credits, but with the U.S. electorate focused on the country's sputtering economy, Prentice says it's unlikely legislation will go ahead soon.

"We've been very clear that we will not go it alone on cap-and-trade legislation," he said.

Danielle Droitsch, director of U.S. policy for the environmental group Pembina, says that if the Canadian government doesn't move ahead on climate change, she wants to know what the plan is.

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"If the U.S. is on pause for federal climate legislation, does that mean Canada really is on pause for the next two years?" she asked. "I hope not."

The Obama administration struggled with its climate bill, passing it through the House of Representatives but seeing efforts to publish a much weaker bill through the Senate collapse this summer.

The Conservative government has largely followed the U.S. lead on climate change, with both countries promising to lower emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The Tories have said Canadian companies would be at a disadvantage if restrictions were placed on them that aren't placed on U.S. competitors.

Droitsch says the Obama administration is moving ahead with more regulations on heavy emitters, and she hopes the Canadian government will do the same.

Voters discouraged by the U.S. economy are expected to hand Republicans control of the House of Representatives and give them gains in the Senate.  

With files from the Canadian Press