Alberta tables climate plan for industry; retains key parts of old legislation

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers welcomes plan, and policy experts don’t

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Jason Nixon Minister of Environment and Parks chat before the speech from the throne is delivered in Edmonton on Tuesday May 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Jason Nixon Minister of Environment and Parks chat before the speech from the throne is delivered in Edmonton on Tuesday May 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta has introduced a new climate plan for the province’s big greenhouse gas emitters that it says will achieve similar emissions cuts as the former NDP government’s plan and at less cost.

“Our projections are that we’re looking at getting similar results for less price for industry,” said Jason Nixon, environment minister for the United Conservative government.

It does not affect the federal consumer carbon tax, which will still go ahead on Jan. 1 and still faces court challenges.

The new plan, introduced in the legislature Tuesday, puts large industrial emitters under two regulatory regimes.

Most facilities, such as oilsands plants or concrete manufacturers that produce more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2, are to be assigned an individual carbon emissions benchmark based on past performance. Smaller emitters will be able to opt in to that program in order to avoid federal regulations.

The plants will be expected to reduce their emissions by 10 per cent below the benchmark the first year and one per cent every year after that. If they don’t, they will have to pay $30 a tonne or buy emissions credits. Facilities under their benchmark will be allowed to stockpile or sell credits.

Some of the money is to go into a fund to support greenhouse-gas-reducing technology. Half of every dollar raised after the first $100 million is to go to debt reduction or to the province’s ”war room,” a newly created $30-million office to counter criticism of the oil and gas industry.

The new plan deals with electricity generators the same way as one that was introduced by the New Democrats.

Power plants — Alberta’s largest emitters and where most emissions cuts are expected to occur — will be assigned a single benchmark for the entire industry.

That approach is also available to other high-performing plants, which can choose to be regulated under a benchmark set by the best performance in their sector. Facilities that outperform that benchmark may not have to reduce emissions at all.

Government documents say the new approach could save industry up to $330 million a year.

Nixon said he expects the program to achieve about 32 megatonnes in greenhouse gas reductions. The New Democrat plan promised about 50 megatonnes, but that included a consumer carbon tax as well.

Terry Abel of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers welcomed the new plan. “The hybrid approach is probably the best way,” he said. “Each (emitter) is governed by unique circumstances.”

READ MORE: VP quits after backlash to University of Alberta’s billboard on climate change

The two-pronged approach is a mistake, say policy experts. Jan Gorski of the clean-energy think tank Pembina Institute said setting individual benchmarks is “a step backwards.”

“It’s unfair and less efficient. It punishes companies that have had good performance that have already taken steps to reduce emissions and it rewards those that haven’t.

“(The new system) is not as strong as the old system.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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