New Brunswick

Environment minister sidesteps questions on costs of climate plan

Environment Minister Serge Rousselle is offering few details about the potential cost to pivot the province to a low-carbon economy, or about how large a carbon-pricing scheme the province could tolerate, a day after the Gallant government rolled out its new climate action plan.

More analysis needed, but benefits expected to outweigh costs, Serge Rousselle says

Environment Minister Serge Rousselle offered few further details about the government's climate action plan. (CBC)

Environment Minister Serge Rousselle is offering few details about the potential cost to pivot the province to a low-carbon economy, or about how large a carbon-pricing scheme the province could tolerate, a day after the Gallant government rolled out its new climate action plan.

Rousselle said Thursday it's too soon to give precise cost estimates on the climate action plan, entitled Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy.

While Graeme Stewart-Robertson, the executive director of ACAP Saint John, said the new plan is "extremely encouraging," how carbon pricing, cap-and-trade and carbon taxing are going to work out is "a big question mark for citizens,"

"People are concerned about what that might mean for them," Stewart-Robertson said.

His environmental organization would like to see the provincial government assuage those fears by implementing a progressive carbon tax that "examines the capacity of citizens to pay within the system."

One solution, he said, could to be to "scrap income tax below a certain threshold and just rely on this as a consumption tax."

"To see that answered in the near future would go a long way toward assuaging fears," said Stewart-Robertson.

Rousselle said the province has "cost estimates of individual elements of the plan and that is being prepared and included in the program proposals taken to government and non-governmental partners," he told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton.

"There's a lot of modeling that has to be done and that has been done, and those are the kind of analysis we are doing."

Nevertheless, the environment minister said he believes the climate action program will be worth the cost.

"The benefits are expected to exceed any program costs," Rousselle said.

The plan is being lauded by some environmental groups, but it also pushed off two major decisions, including the future of NB Power's coal-fired power plant in Belledune and whether to pursue a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

Carbon tax or cap-and-trade

The Trudeau government has given provinces until 2018 to adopt a carbon price plan, or the federal government will impose one on them. (Shutterstock / Art Babych)

One of the main pillars of the new plan will be introducing a price on carbon, but the plan doesn't state how the government will do that.

The two most likely options are a carbon tax, where a company is taxed on any carbon emitted over a certain threshold, or a cap-and-trade system, where companies that emit high amounts of carbon can purchase credits from companies that emit less.

​Rousselle didn't shed any further light on which system the government would implement, but said it's important that they implement a made-in-New Brunswick solution.

"By 2018, there will be a carbon tax if we do nothing. So we prefer to make a [made-in New Brunswick solution] to make sure we do arrive to the best solution for the province," said Rousselle.

Province's energy future

The plan to phase out coal-produced electricity by 2030 has raised questions about the future of the Belledune Generating Station. (NB Power)

Another main component of the plan is accepting a legislative committee's recommendation to phase out coal power by 2030.

The plan, however, doesn't provide any insight on what will happen to NB Power's coal-fired generating plant in Belledune.

If the Belledune plant closes in 2030, this will leave the province with a big hole in its energy-producing ability, making the decision on what to do with the aging Mactaquac dam even more important.

Rousselle offered little in the way of new information.

"NB Power and our government has to look for the best option and right now, the work is being done," he said.

Stewart-Robertson said he's looking forward to seeing how the climate change plan is implemented.

"This is one of the most significant problems, and opportunities, that we're going to face here in New Brunswick in the coming future," he said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Saint John

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