Stephen Harper’s government changes topic after NDP asks about climate rules

Environment Canada estimates carbon pollution from the oilsands increased 307 per cent between 1990 and 2012.

Environment Canada estimates carbon pollution from the oilsands increased 307 per cent between 1990 and 2012. It also estimates a further 61 per cent increase in emissions by 2020.

You may have seen this report in the Toronto Star about a mysterious end to a secretive group that was created to draft new rules to reduce carbon pollution from oil and gas companies.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq was asked about the long-delayed rules for oil companies on Tuesday in the House of Commons by NDP environment critic Megan Leslie.

Aglukkaq responded by changing the topic.

“We have taken action on some of the largest sources of emissions in this country, the transportation and the electricity-generation sector,” said Aglukkaq in the Commons. “I’m also looking forward to taking part in the UN climate summit in New York next week to speak to Canada’s record in taking action on climate change.”

Leslie recommended that the federal government should “quit stalling” in addressing climate change.

“After seven years of the government’s broken promises to introduce greenhouse gas rules for the oil and gas sector Canadians are still waiting,” Leslie said.

“Now we hear that Environment Canada has stopped talking to the industry and the Alberta government altogether. In fact, the (federal) government-led committee hasn’t met since March 2013. When will this government quit stalling and when will we see the regulations?”

David McLaughlin, a former senior Conservative government staffer who later led a federal advisory panel on the environment and economy, said any delays in action would increase economic risks.

“Delay in tackling Canada’s top emitting source is short-term economic gain for long-term economic risk,” said McLaughlin, an adviser on sustainability issues at the University of Waterloo’s environment faculty who also served as chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney. “Market access will be more, not less, assured when Canada comes to grips with a carbon management plan for this sector.”

The latest comments coincided with a new international report – released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate – that concluded countries could expand their economies by reducing carbon pollution.

Environment Canada estimated earlier this year that greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands increased by 307 per cent between 1990 and 2012. The carbon emissions were projected to grow a further 61 per cent before the end of the decade.

Scientists estimate that humans must reduce global emissions by up to 72 per cent in order to meet an international target, under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, of preventing global warming of more than two degrees Celsius.

In a written statement, Environment Canada confirmed that the group working on oil and gas regulations had stopped meeting in March 2013.

“Since that time, Environment Canada has been engaging provinces, industry and others to discuss the potential for GHG emission reductions from the oil and gas sector,” wrote spokesman Danny Kingsberry in the statement. “As discussions evolved there was a need to explore the specific circumstances and variation within the sector and across the country, resulting in a move away from the working group structure and toward more targeted discussions. Our engagement is continuing on many fronts.”

He added that it would be “premature” to comment specifically about what the group was examining, since the regulations were still under development.

Former environment minister Peter Kent had said in February 2013 that the government was “very close” to finalizing the oil and gas carbon pollution rules.

Here are some questions and answers about the committee:

Who was on the committee? Representatives from three oil and gas companies – Cenovus, CNRL and Suncor as well as the industry lobby group – the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers were on the committee along with representatives from the Alberta government and Environment Canada, which was leading its work.

How do we know about the committee? The existence of the committee of industry and government representatives – created to write rules for industry – was a secret until it was uncovered through records released under access to information legislation.

When was it created? According to internal records, the committee was created in the fall of 2011 and met approximately once every four weeks, until March 2013.

What was it working on when it stopped meeting? According to internal federal and provincial records, the committee had studied a series of options for new regulations.

Responding to questions from the Toronto Star, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers vice president of policy and performance, Alex Ferguson, said it has “consistently” advocated for “balanced carbon policy” that consider the views of investors or would-be investors.

“We believe that government(s) need to move forward on this topic, and we have consistently advocated that they do so with careful and thorough consideration of all consequences – intended and unintended,” Ferguson told the Star.

Behind closed doors, internal records obtained by Greenpeace Canada through provincial freedom of information legislation revealed that industry lobbyists rejected proposals from the Alberta government to introduce tough rules, and instead suggested delaying action to allow for more “study, analysis and consultation.”

At that time, David Daly, the director of fiscal policy at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers argued that tougher rules wouldn’t likely stop critics from asking companies to do more to reduce their climate change footprint.

The environmental lobby group blames the industry lobbyists for derailing the talks.

“This is what happens when a government opens the doors wide to the oil industry and shuts out everyone else,” said Keith Stewart, a Toronto-based climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada. “The upstream oil and gas industry is now the biggest carbon polluter in the country precisely because the Harper government gives in every time they cry poor. Meanwhile, the public foots the ever-rising bill for climate disasters while the oil companies post record profits.”

Stewart said that the toughest proposal on the table from Alberta would tackle part of the increase at a cost of less than $1.00 per barrel of oil, “which is a very small drop in a very large bucket,” he said.

 

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