Sask. gov't says new climate change rules meant to 'protect' trade-exposed companies

The province announced new emissions "performance standards" Wednesday for more than 40 "large industrial emitters" that, if successful, are expected to reduce the province's overall emissions by 1.1 per cent by 2030.

More than 40 industrial producers affected by newly-detailed plan

Pumpjacks at work pumping crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., on June 20, 2007. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

The province has announced new emissions "performance standards" for more "large industrial emitters" that, if successful, are expected to reduce the province's overall emissions by 1.1 per cent by 2030.

The standards affect more than 40 companies that operate in emissions-intensive industries, including pulp mills, ethanol producers, iron and steel mills, miners, canola crushers, fertilizer manufacturers, refiners and upstream oil and gas producers in Sask.

Those facilities currently generate 11 per cent of the province's total emissions, or 8.5 million tonnes, according to the government. The standards announced Wednesday are expected to reduce those facilities' emissions by 10 per cent by 2030.

That amounts to a 1.1-per-cent reduction in emissions for the whole province.

The standards, which will gradually increase over the years, are part of a larger plan that is expected to cumulatively reduce Saskatchewan's greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3 million tonnes by 2030.

'Protects our trade-exposed economy'

Saskatchewan environment minister Dustin Duncan outlined new details Wednesday of the province's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Producers will be able to choose from several options to fulfil their obligations, including offset credits, best performance credits and a technology fund, the government said.

"This protects our trade-exposed economy," said Environment Minister Dustin Duncan at press conference in Moose Jaw Wednesday morning, with groups like The Mosaic Company, K+S Potash and Federated Co-operatives Limited watching from the audience.

The standards were developed in consultation with industry members and environment-focused, non-government organizations, Duncan added.

Jessica Theriault, The Mosaic Company's director of environmental affairs, said the plan will ensure "that companies like Mosaic will be here for another 50 years." 

Some industries, such as potash, coal and uranium mining, are expected to reduce "emissions intensity" by five per cent by 2030, while some upstream oil and gas producers are expected to reduce it by up to 15 per cent.

'Maybe too weak' 

"They seem achievable and potentially maybe too weak," Brett Dolter, an ecological economist at the University of Regina, said of the announced targets.

The government's plan looks at reducing emission intensity, as opposed to emissions themselves, he said.

"So if you get five per cent more efficient in producing output, but you produce 10 per cent more, your emissions have gone up by five per cent," he said.

"For industry, a hard cap would likely be tougher to meet."

Dolter said Saskatchewan may be casting its eye south when formulating its plan.

"In the current environment we live in, where we have the United States without a big federal climate change plan, that might be necessary in the short term in order to protect those industries, make sure they stay in the country," he said.

Doing its own thing

Jessica Theriault, a representative from The Mosaic Company, said the company approves the performance standards set out by the Saskatchewan government. (CBC)

The province's own plan, dubbed the "Prairie Resiliency Strategy," has come under scrutiny from the federal government.

When Saskatchewan first announced the broad contours of its plan last December, Federal Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna posted on Facebook that it "wouldn't hit our standard because it applies only to heavy industry instead of being economy-wide."

Saskatchewan has not signed on to the federal government's carbon tax plan. Canada has given provinces until Sept. 1 to submit climate change plans. 

Duncan, in the latest show of defiance against the federal government's carbon-tax plan, said Saskatchewan won't be doing that.

"Our climate change does not need federal approval," said Duncan, reminding audience members that the province has filed a legal challenge claiming that a federally-imposed carbon tax in Saskatchewan would be unconstitutional. 

David Forbes, the Saskatchewan NDP's environment critic, denounced the province's strategy. 

"We worry deeply about what their relationship is with the federal government," he said. "It looks like we've missed $62 million in programming funding that could help us because they're playing this dangerous strategy."

Forbes said that while today's announcement fills in some details, others remain elusive.

"Today we saw an announcement that would deal with a very small part of the question," he said. "We still need to know what's happening in agriculture. We need to know what's happening with buildings and transportation."

Saskatchewan NDP environment critic David Forbes called the province's plan "half-baked." (CBC)

He also said the mechanics of offset credits, one of the compliance options outlined by the government, remain unclear.

"This is a half-baked plan," he said.

When asked if the Saskatchewan NDP believes the province's climate change strategy should include a carbon tax, Forbes said the province needs, "a made-in-Saskatchewan solution." He said Saskatchewan's current strategy is pushing it closer to getting a "federally-imposed" carbon tax.