Energy Star cuts in the U.S. could spell trouble for Canadian climate plan

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is adding cabinet weight to a lobbying effort against proposed U.S. budget cuts to the popular and effective Energy Star program.

Department skeptical Canada could continue to work the program on its own

Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr holds a press conference after hosting the annual Canadian Council of Forest Ministers in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is adding cabinet weight to a lobbying effort against proposed U.S. budget cuts to the popular and effective Energy Star program.

If the U.S. goes ahead with a plan to slash the Energy Star budget by 40 per cent it could cripple the program and put at risk up to one-third of the emissions reductions Canada hopes to achieve from its national climate change action plan.

"It's a very important program for us and has been for some time," Carr told The Canadian Press Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to eliminate the entire $50 million funding for Energy Star in his spring budget proposal, suggesting it is an area that could easily be privatized.

The House of Representatives, after months of lobbying, recently passed its budget bill, which proposes to cut the Energy Star budget by 40 per cent.

An Energy Star label at an appliance store in Mountain View, Calif. Some of the United States' largest manufacturers are among more than 1,000 U.S. companies urging Congress to preserve the 25-year-old Energy Star program, which promotes efficiency in home and business products. (The Associated Press)

Documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show Natural Resources Canada is skeptical that Canada could continue to work the program on its own if the U.S. pulls out of Energy Star.

"While too early to speculate on whether the final U.S. budget will follow through on this, there would be significant impacts on Canada's ability to maintain the program without U.S. leadership," reads a briefing note on the matter.

Carr plans to raise issue with energy secretary

The department outline a lobbying plan to try and stop the cuts that included having Carr raise it with Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on a June visit to Ottawa.

Pruitt's trip was cancelled and the discussion was never held. Now Carr plans to raise it when he meets U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in Paris in November.

Natural Resources has identified Perry as one of the best hopes to help because his record as the governor of Texas included significant work on energy-efficient building codes and backing for wind energy development.

Since 1991 the EPA has run Energy Star to certify and label consumer products, new homes and commercial businesses based on their energy use. The familiar blue label tells people that the product or house is more efficient than products without the label and studies suggest homes and businesses with the label can be rented or sold at a premium.

Canada joined Energy Star in 2001, but its participation relies on an agreement with the EPA which owns the rights to the program. Canada will spend about $10.5 million to run its side of the program this year.

'Best interests of both countries:' Carr

The U.S. has about 16,000 private partners who use Energy Star to label their products. There are about 2,000 such partners in Canada. But Energy Star is also the basis for almost all of the energy-efficiency programs run by the provinces, programs which are being looked at to cut nearly 30 million tonnes of carbon-equivalent emissions over the next 13 years as Canada tries to hit its Paris agreement commitments.

That amounts to one-third of the planned emissions under Canada's climate change framework and about 15 per cent of the total emissions Canada has to eliminate by 2030 to meet its Paris commitment.

Without Energy Star, Natural Resources officials fear those programs will collapse.

The Alliance to Save Energy, a U.S. partnership of private and public sector representatives, said the House of Representatives budget cut would be "debilitating."

"When you cut the budget of a program almost in half it's going to have some pretty devastating impacts," said alliance vice-president Ben Evans. "They will just not be able to do as much."

Evans said privatizing Energy Star is not a workable option because consumers aren't going to trust a certification if the program is funded by companies making money off the ratings.

Carr said the bottom line is Energy Star is "in the best interests of both countries" providing billions in savings to consumers on energy bills, cutting emissions and costing the governments just a small fraction in exchange.

The documents say every dollar invested by the public into Energy Star results in $600 worth of savings on energy bills.