Inside Politics

Some notes for the new environment minister

The new environment minister will have a list of difficult issues to handle over the next few years. And it will start almost right away.

1. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline decision: The new minister may or may not keep this portfolio. Jim Prentice kept it through three different portfolios because of his interest in the project. But it's not a guaranteed the new guy will keep it. It could get shuffled back to Natural Resources or Industry.

The final decision by cabinet on this massive project expected by cabinet very soon. Remember that the National Energy Board approved the $16-billion project just before Christmas, and all it needs is political approval. Although that still won't guarantee it will go ahead, due to problems caused by soaring costs and soft gas markets.

2. Industrial Regulations to control greenhouse gasses: There's been much talk about this since new regulations were announced in the United States. It is using its existing law, the Environmental Protection Act, to make all new and expanding coal plants and refineries control their greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2012.

It has also announced that other big industries will have to use the best technology available to control emissions. Those rules will ramp up between now and 2016.

There's been no cap-and-trade system announced in the U.S., which is something President Barack Obama wanted but Republicans can't swallow. This is a big deal for the Canada's environment minister since our government has been saying we will match what happens in the U.S.

Canada has already announced rules to control emissions from all new coal plants in Canada by 2015. There are only two on the books so far.

But we DON'T have regulations to control emissions from all big industry like refineries, manufacturing and our fastest growing source of emissions -- the oil and gas sector.

It's the biggest hole in Canada's approach to climate change and it's the most glaring problem for the country internationally.

The new guy is going to have to tackle this quickly. And the first questions he will face from reporters, environmentalists and the opposition is: Where are Canada's regulations to control big industrial emissions?

3. The budget: The federal budget is coming soon, and with it questions about money to help Canadian families and companies become more environmentally friendly.

Three years ago, the feds announced a whole raft of ECO-energy programs, for everything from wind power (this has already run out) to ECO -- energy programs to retrofit your house. But those programs run out in 2011.

The question here is: will there be any more ECO-energy money. These were very popular programs, and how will new guy handle this?

4. Oilsands monitoring:

Remember before Christmas when the oilsands advisory panel released its report into the monitoring of the effect the oilsands are having on water in Alberta and downstream?

The report said the monitoring was a mess and essentially a mass of confused jurisdictions and sloppy science. It said the federal environment ministry had a responsibility to take the lead on this and make sure it was done properly.

Interim Environment Minister John Baird, who took over the file after Prentice left politics in November, announced that the monitoring would be fixed in 90 days. Well, the clock is ticking and his successor has a hot potato in this one. Fixing the monitoring will take longer than three months because it's such a big job, and that is a difficult legacy for the new minister.
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