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A portion of the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine is seen from an overlook near Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2008. The federal government says it has not ruled out giving special breaks to oilsands companies when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

The Conservative government has not ruled out giving special breaks to oilsands companies when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Minister Jim Prentice acknowledged Tuesday.

Prentice's comments came in response to draft documents obtained by CBC News that suggest the Tories want to harmonize their approach to cutting greenhouse gases with that of the United States and have considered allowing weaker targets for the oil and gas sector.

The draft documents compare the Conservatives' 2007 green plan, called Turning the Corner, with U.S. legislation (Waxman-Markey legislation) passed by the House of Representatives and suggest the targets of Canada's plan are more stringent.

Speaking in Copenhagen, Prentice told reporters that the U.S. legislation includes a number of industries that are described as "trade-exposed industrial sectors."

"One of the decisions that will need to be made in terms of harmonization is the manner in which that matches with Canada," Prentice said.

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Environment Minister Jim Prentice says draft documents obtained by the CBC, which were prepared for a presentation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet, do not represent the position of the government. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Canada competes with the U.S in those sectors, which include steel, potash, cement and oil and gas. Under the U.S. legislation, those industries are getting lower emission targets than they do in Canada.

Asked about Canada's oilsands, Prentice replied: "I think any industry that is a trade-exposed industry in the same sense would be an industry that has to be considered in terms of its comparability to the U.S. framework."

He said that no decisions have been made.

Prentice added that he has not seen the draft documents CBC obtained, which were prepared for a presentation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet ahead of the Copenhagen summit. But he said they do not represent the position of the government.

The draft proposal suggests that the oil and gas industry would have to cut 15 megatonnes of emissions, rather than the 48 megatonnes proposed in the Turning the Corner plan.

It also says projected growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands in northern Alberta will be 165 per cent by 2020 and proposes to cut that growth — not emissions — by 10 per cent.

The proposal raises questions about how the Tories could cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 — a target they insist they can reach — while weakening the targets in the oil and gas sector.

With files from The Canadian Press