Federal bills on carbon pricing, coal, clean fuels expected in 2018

Environmental advocates say 2018 is going to have to be a banner year for environmental legislation, regulation and strategies or Canada's climate plan is going to end up on the scrap heap of climate promises past.

Trudeau government has delayed many actions promised in 1-year-old climate change framework

Steam billows from the Sheerness coal fired generating station near Hanna, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. At least six major environment policies, bills or strategies to implement parts of the pan-Canadian climate change framework are expected in 2018, including a bill to phase out coal fired power plants. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

One year ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got eight provinces and all three territories to agree to put a price on pollution as part of a national climate change plan.

The Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is a mouthful to say but it was considered by many to be the first time Canada had, at least on paper, an actual strategy to meet its international commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It's a huge agenda for 2018 because they've pushed them off.- Dale Marshall, Environmental Defence

Twelve months later, environmental advocates say 2018 is going to have to be a banner year for environmental legislation, regulation and strategies or the climate plan is going to end up on the scrap heap of climate promises past.

At least six major environment policies, bills or strategies to implement parts of the framework are expected in 2018. That includes legislation to allow the federal government to impose a carbon price on provinces that don't meet the federal standard on their own, a zero-emissions vehicle strategy, an overhaul of the environmental review and regulatory process, changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, regulations to force the phase out of coal-fired electricity by 2030, and a clean fuels strategy.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, centre, talks as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left to right, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley look on during the closing press conference of the Meeting of First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016, where Trudeau and most of the premiers signed a historic pan-Canadian framework to fight climate change and meet the country's 2030 emissions reduction targets. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Plans to move forward on a national electricity grid are also possible in 2018, allowing provinces with an abundance of clean power to help out those that are trying to cut back on coal as a source of electricity.

"It's a huge agenda for 2018 because they've pushed them off," said Dale Marshall, national program manager for Environmental Defence.

Canada, which is trying to be seen as one of the big international leaders on the climate change file, is also going to want to have many of these things in hand before it hosts the G7 leaders' summit in Quebec, where climate change is expected to be one of the biggest ticket items on the agenda.

"We have made some good progress but we see potential risks into the new year," said Erin Flanagan, director of federal policy for the Pembina Institute.

The institute released Thursday a report card on the framework one year after its signing which gave the government three stars out of five for implementing carbon pricing and coal-electricity phase outs, but only two stars out of five for progress on the transportation sector, energy efficient buildings and the oil and gas sector — which together account for almost two-thirds of Canada's total emissions.

Numerous delays

Flanagan said the government has delayed methane emissions standards for the oil and gas sector from a 2018 start date to 2020, and is also behind on unveiling the details of the clean fuels standard that is to make the gas we burn in our cars a lot cleaner. While its full roll-out isn't planned until 2019, the broad strokes of it were supposed to be made public this fall.

We're still waiting.

Plans to spend $2 billion over two years on provincial and municipal-level climate change projects got spread over five years in this year's budget. A competition for $600 million of that was supposed to be launched this fall.

Again, we're still waiting.

An electric car plugs into a charging station in Toronto. Other federal climate change-related bills expected in 2018 include a zero-emissions vehicle strategy and a clean fuels strategy. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Flanagan said the hope was that the $10 per tonne carbon price would be in place at the start of 2018 but it's now more likely to be delayed until the end of 2018.

McKenna told The Canadian Press this week she feels "really good" about where the framework is at the one year mark.

"We still have a lot of work to do to implement it but I think we've come a long way," she said.

Carbon price bill needed

The government did introduce the broad details of its federal carbon price last spring, though legislation is still needed to allow it to impose the price in provinces that don't meet the federal standards.

Neither Manitoba nor Saskatchewan have joined the climate framework but they did both release climate action plans this fall. McKenna praised them for at least recognizing climate change is real but she has also been clear neither plan meets the federal standards as they stand.

A pump jack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. Most methane comes from leaks from oil and gas equipment like compressors, pumps and pipelines. The government has delayed methane regulations for the oil and gas sector. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

McKenna seem to intimate this week she's hoping Saskatchewan will be more willing to negotiate once the governing Saskatchewan Party chooses a new leader at the end of January. Premier Brad Wall, the fiercest critic of the federal carbon pricing plan, resigned Thursday.

"They're in a leadership race right now but we hope they understand the need to work with us," McKenna said.

However, all of those running to replace Wall have stated their opposition to a carbon tax, which could be setting in motion a lengthy legal battle with that province.

The federal plan calls for a price on carbon pollution of $10 per tonne in 2018, rising by $10 per year to $50 per tonne in 2022.

Flanagan wants Canada to further commit to raising the carbon price to $130 a tonne by 2030.

All countries, including Canada, are expected to raise their targets to cut emissions beyond current promises. The United Nations says existing commitments only get the world one-third of the way to keeping the planet from warming up so much that the impacts of climate change become uncontrollable.