New Brunswick

Higgs asks feds to back off regulations for industrial emitters

The Progressive Conservative government is asking the federal government to put on hold plans to impose emissions regulations on industrial emitters in the province in the new year.

Premier Blaine Higgs promises a vaguely-defined set of provincial rules for industry

Premier Blaine Higgs announces his plan to ask the federal government to hold off on emissions regulations for the province.

New Brunswick's new Progressive Conservative government is asking the federal government to put on hold plans to impose emissions regulations on industrial emitters in the province on Jan. 1.

Instead, PC Premier Blaine Higgs is promising a vaguely-defined set of provincial rules for industry that would keep emissions below levels established in the Paris climate treaty.

"What we'll look at is a regulation program around industry so they'll continue to move in a direction of reduced emissions," he said. 

The new premier labelled his Wednesday announcement as the unveiling of his own climate plan, though he was not able to offer any details of how industrial emissions will be regulated. 

There's a weakening of our target.- Lois Corbett, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

"We'll look at the best models in other provinces and say, 'What works for New Brunswick?'" he said. "And rolling it out over the coming year ... is the plan. It isn't prescribed right here, right now."

Higgs holds up a copy of the former Liberal carbon plan while announcing the new Tory climate change plan on Wednesday. (CBC)

Higgs said Ottawa's plan forces large emitters to pay with no recognition of whether they've managed to reduce emissions in the past.

"Industries are not given any credit for where they stand today. They're all placed in a similar bucket and told, 'Regardless of what you've done in the past, you're going to do to this and make these changes,'" he said.

"We have different industries competing in the same world but that are starting from different levels because some have invested and some haven't. That's an uncompetitive position to put our industries in."

Even so, Higgs repeated his vow to meet New Brunswick's emissions-reductions goal for 2030.

"We will regulate as necessary to make sure we meet the target," he said.

Weaker targets

But the goal he pledged to hit is the weaker of two possible targets.

The province has already achieved 24 per cent of the 30 per cent reduction from 2005 levels and is "on track to meet the target" for 2030, which works out to 14.1 megatons of carbon dioxide emitted annually.

That target is based on applying Canada's national reductions target under the Paris climate agreement.

New Brunswick had also adopted its own more ambitious target of 10.7 megatons by 2030, a goal written into legislation — but one that went unmentioned by the premier at Wednesday's news conference.

That's despite Higgs's claim he is adopting the Liberal government's 2016 plan, Transitioning To A Low Carbon Economy.

"I have no intention to re-invent the wheel," he said, holding up a copy of the document at the news conference. "I don't have a need to re-brand or change something."

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said the plan presented by the Higgs government weakens the previous target. (CBC)

But that 2016 document includes the tougher 10.7-megaton target that Higgs has apparently abandoned.

"There's a weakening of our target," said Lois Corbett of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

Charging consumers

The national climate plan agreed to by Ottawa and the provinces in 2016 is meant to cover emission generated both by consumers and by industry.

The previous Liberal government developed its own carbon-tax system for consumers, while opting to allow Ottawa to apply its pricing regime on large industrial emitters.

The industrial rules would measure the average emissions in different industrial sectors and force plants that exceed the average to pay. They've already been criticized as too vague and too weak.

Higgs also reiterated his opposition to Ottawa's carbon tax on consumers, which will be imposed in April 2019 on four provinces violating a federal requirement to make fossil fuels more expensive.

Federal estimates say that will cost an average New Brunswick family $207 more in 2019. But Ottawa has pledged to rebate 90 per cent of what it collects in the recalcitrant provinces. It estimates an average New Brunswick family will get a rebate of $256.

Higgs said the federal tax on consumers is unnecessary and he said he's skeptical of the 90 per cent rebate promise.

"We have a carbon plan. We have a plan to meet our emissions standards. So what's the point? … Is [the federal plan] a plan to reduce emissions or is it a plan to generate tax revenue?"

Besides joining legal challenges to that tax by the Saskatchewan and Ontario governments, New Brunswick will also launch one of its own, the premier said.

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