Conservatives to table new clean air rules

The Harper government was set to introduce on Thursday a proposed clean air act, the centrepiece of its highly touted environmental plan.

The Harper government was set to introduce on Thursdaya proposed clean air act— the centrepiece of itshighly touted environmental plan.

The bill is expected to contain regulations on both air pollution and greenhouse gases and to impose restrictions on industry, including the auto manufacturing sector and the oil and gas sector.

Although not yet tabled in the House of Commons, the bill has been criticized by environmental groups and opposition parties.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who obtained a leaked internal document that details aspects of the bill, said the government is not moving fast enough to protect the environment and the bill will do little to control air pollution and do nothing to set short-term targets for greenhouse gases.

"The government promised action. What we have here is delay. Many of the measures are not kicking in until five years from now,"Layton said.

"In some cases, we're promising to match the standards set in Washington. This is hardly what you could call a made-in-Canada solution. It's a Xerox copy of a made-in-Washington solution, delayed."

4 yearsfor final provisions: leaked paper

The leaked document,labelled "notice of intent," says:

  • It will take until at least 2010for initial provisions to be put inplace toregulate emissions from large polluters.
  • The government plans to conduct detailedconsultationson proposed regulations before setting short-term targets to reduce industrial emissions.
  • The government will gather advice on the idea of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent to 65 per cent by 2050.
  • The billdoes not set short-term targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Layton said short-term targets are critical to dealing with the pressing issue of climate change.

Environment Minister Rona Ambrosetold theHouse of Commons standing committee onenvironment and sustainable development that theproposed legislationto deal with air pollution and climate change will be a historic moment for the government.

"This will be the first time the federal government will embark on a comprehensive approach from a national perspective to dealing with the issue of air pollution and greenhouse gases," she said recently."It's an ambitious achievement and it's an ambitious agenda."

Rick Smith, a spokesperson for Environmental Defence, aToronto-basedenvironmental group that researches, educates and goes to court to protect the environment, said the proposed bill is important for the credibility of the Conservative government.

"It's a real opportunity for them to, on the one hand, prove a lot of critics wrong, or fulfill some of the negative expectations people might have," he said.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, said at a news conference on Wednesday in Ottawa that Canada already has a legislative framework in place to regulate emissions. May said the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is effective legislation to control harmful pollutants.

According to environmental lawyers who obtained a leaked copy of the proposed legislation, May said expected amendments in the bill to the CEPA will do little to reduce air pollution and may even weaken the federal government's ability to regulate emissions.

May said the leaked copy, obtained by the Sierra Club of Canada, shows that the bill does not enhance federal authority to control air pollution, greenhouse gases or reporting, enforcement, auditing and monitoring.

She said: "The provisions of the bill, in fact, could delay important action to reduce emissions by allowing the provinces the option to opt out of CEPA regulations."

The bill is also expected to contain what are known as intensity-based environmental emissions targets.

Prime Minister Stephen Harperhas said it will be the first time that the federal government sets these kinds of targets for the short term and long term that will cover a range of emissions.

Intensity-based targets means environmental emissions would be relative to the economic output of various industries. That means even though individual emission limits for each barrel of oil or piece of coal could be lowered, if production increases, the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants could grow.

Many environmentalists believe capping greenhouse gas emissions is key to tackling climate change. Critics of intensity-based targets say the approach allows heavily polluting industries, such as Alberta's oilsands, to continue to grow and pollute, while remaining under government-imposed limitations.

Under the bill, the government is expected to have intensity-based targets for oil and gas companies that kick in next spring and will be in place until 2025, CBC News has learned.Then, the industry will be expected to begin cutting total emissions.

The goverment also plans to use the existing legislation, such as the CEPA, to regulate industry.

Consumer incentives, such as tax breaks and rebates for increasing energy efficience, are expected to come later.

Environmental groups have said they will examine the legislation closelyafter it is introduced.

With files from the Canadian Press