The Round-Up: October 19th 2006

Conservative Government Tables Clean Air Act

The bill sets no short-term targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions but the government says it will seek to cut emissions between 45 to 65 per cent from 2003 levels by 2050.

In the meantime, the government will set so-called "intensity targets'' which would obligate industry to reduce the amount of energy used per unit of production, without implementing a set restriction on emissions.

Industrial polluters would have until at least 2010 before they would face regulations and the government is giving itself until 2020 to set national emissions-cutting targets for the pollutants that cause smog.

The Oilpatch Faces Unprecedented Changes In Its Workforce

Oilsands development is not the only reason that the industry stands in need of so many new hands within the next decade. Another crucial factor has been price instability. For 30 years, both oil and gas prices have cycled erratically up and down with an intensity rarely experienced in steadier sectors like manufacturing and services. Since 1999, for example, the monthly average value of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has ranged from $10 (U.S.) per barrel to upwards of $70. In the past year, natural gas prices have plunged by 50%.

Petroleum producers and service companies face the constant risk of a plunge in annual income. In order to survive, they have learned to run very lean, flexible operations. Training and staff development programs were drastically reduced. When a payroll downsizing could occur at any moment, it made more sense to hire experienced veterans under temporary contracts rather than to invest years in training new permanent employees.

Today, Maynard explains, petroleum producers have a heavy preponderance of skilled professionals in their late forties and fifties. It's a generation that received its first training during the long period of price stability that the oil and gas sector enjoyed between 1945 and 1975. Very soon, that age group will be retiring in very large numbers. "Employers will try to persuade as many as possible to continue working but these people have done well financially," the CAPP vice-president says. "Most of them are in a position to retire earlier rather than later."

A Heavy Blow for Wind Power - Cap on Generation 'Stalls the Business'

In May, citing a potential for reliability problems for the provincial network, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) -- which oversees the electricity market and transmission network in Alberta -- surprised the industry by announcing that wind power generation in Alberta, currently at about 300 megawatts (MW) of capacity, would be capped indefinitely at 900 MW. However, there are proposals for about 3,000 MW of projects above and beyond the ones already lined up and paid up to meet the 900 MW mark.

Integration Talks Kept in the Dark

(subscription to Calgary Herald required)

Since Paul Martin, Vicente Fox and George W. Bush signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership in March 2005, discussions on continental integration have gone underground.

The media have paid little attention to this far-reaching agreement, so Canadians are unaware that a dozen working groups are currently "harmonizing" Canadian and U.S. regulations on everything from food to drugs to the environment and even more contentious issues like foreign policy.

Make no mistake, this process of harmonization is not about improving food, environmental and other norms; it is about priming North America for better business by weakening the impacts of such perceived obstacles as environmental standards and labour rights.

The U.S. administration, anxious to keep up with its country's high energy demands, has shown great interest in this "secure" energy source located just north of its border. With corporations like Suncor involved, energy was an important item of discussion at the Banff meeting last week.

Given the detrimental impacts of oil sand extraction on our environment and given that Canada currently exports 66 per cent of its oil (primarily to the U.S.) while importing 55 per cent of what we use domestically from countries like Algeria, Venezuela and Norway, it is alarming that Ottawa would discuss a "North American Energy Strategy" with the U.S. and Mexico before establishing a Canadian strategy that would ensure our ability to protect the environment and ensure a secure energy supply for Canadians.

Making fire from ice: a new fuel for the 21st century

Gas hydrate, despite its potential as a low-carbon fuel, could wreak untold damage on the atmosphere. Due to the very high methane content in its structure, a dissociation of methane hydrate into its constituent parts, methane and water, could lead to staggering levels of the gas being released into the atmosphere.

With this grim caveat in mind, major countries around the world are now in a race to discover how to produce energy from methane hydrate. But the challenges involved are manifold. "Hydrate reservoirs are different from conventional reservoirs," says Professor Tohidi. "In traditional reservoirs, the energies are freed. Here, the source of energy is solid. Because hydrates are like ice, they are already in formation. So, to produce from them, you have to turn hydrates into water and gas: you have to dissociate them."

Regarding the new Clean Air Act (the Conservatives' made-in-Canada solution), here is an LTTE that my partner just wrote to the Toronto Star:

In order to comment knowledgeably on the Harper government Clean Air Act, I looked up the details on the Environment Canada website.

A made-in-Canada solution. Yeah. Right.

In Section 5. Scope of the Proposed Regulatory Actions:

"The Government intends to continue to develop and implement regulations to reduce smog- and acid rain-forming emissions from on-road and off-road vehicles, engines and fuels in alignment with the standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It also intends to explore opportunities between Environment Canada and the U.S. EPA to facilitate, to the extent possible, the administration of vehicle, engine and fuel regulations."  (Emphasis is mine.)

Can you say Deep Integration, boys and girls?
What on Earth is going on here? Is Maude Barlow right?

It continues in Section 6.1 Action on Air Pollutant  missions from On-Road and Off-Road Vehicles and Engines:

"The Minister of the Environment intends to continue  harmonising Canadian emission standards for on-road vehicles and engines and off-road engines with those of the U.S. EPA. Consistent with this goal, the Minister will propose the following regulations in the next twelve months:
The Minister of the Environment also intends to implement initiatives to ensure a more streamlined and efficient regulatory system. The Minister will initiate discussions with the U.S. EPA on possibilities for a coordinated approach to administering cleaner vehicles, engines and fuels regulations."

No other country but the US is mentioned in the document even though there are many in the world with higher standards to which we should be aiming our legislation. I am one very disappointed Canadian.

Needless to say, I fully share her disappointment/disgust/rage over our government's casual abrogation of its soverign responsibilities and promises.    Shame on you Stephen Harper and Rona Ambrose.

Good letter.  The name of the gorilla in the corner that no one is talking about has the initials T. for tar and S. for sands.  
To give credit where it's due, the "harmonization" was an initiative of the previous Liberal governments. The problem is that the Canadian vehicle market is not large enough to support the development of engines and their downstream emissions hardware for Canada alone. That's an economic fact that has nothing to do with politics.

So we have to adopt somebody else's emission standards. Aside from the US, the EU would be the only potential alternative. NAFTA, though, has its roots in the previous Canada-US autopact and is at least partly about trade in vehicles and components. So we get stuck with the US standards, and we can hope the government does its best to influence what they are.    

The name Clean AIr Act gives it all away, that's the same Bush used in the US.

The key point in the Act will be, though not immediately obvious, that it creates a new category for substances, named "air pollutants". CO2 before was listed as as "toxin". Another move copied from Bush et al.

The Canadian constitution says Ottawa has no jurisdiction over the regulation of air pollutants. That means that any industry can, and many will, go to court if there is a regulation attempt. If Harper loses future elections, this will fall just as hard on the next government.

Ambrose has held substantial talks with industry, before the public was informed of anything. That in itself should say enough. But also, bien sur, these kinds of sleight-of-hands were the very reason to hold those talks. A framework was set up to let industries get off the hook, while set in language that would satisfy the public. They set it up to be this way. And it will succeed.

The term "intensity targets" is a cleverly worded concept that simply means growing industries can increase their emissions. Tar sands. Power generators. Car makers.

Nothing mentioned in the Clean Air Act will take effect  before 2010 (I just see a headline that mentions half a century). By 2010 Canada will be between 40-45% over its Kyoto targets. Environment Commissioner Johanne Gélinas' report last month was damning. If she had pride, she would resign (no-one acts on her words anyway she's an empty shell), and raise a hell of a ruckus.

We are in a crucial phase at the moment. We either act now or shut up. The choice seems obvious, and it has been made for us behind closed doors.

It's not fair to just blame politicians. If they would go for real action, they would not be elected next time around. It's the people of Canada, who in word support Kyoto, but do so from behind the wheel of their vehicle, who are to blame. In that, the option of political influence, we still differ from the US, though not for long.

There are polls that put Kyoto support at 75%, and even higher in Québec. There are also polls that are not published and that tell parties how many votes they would lose if they try to push people out of their cars. The latter scare them more.

I personally think it goes much further. A quote from an as yet unpublished article of mine:

Just a few years ago, Canada was a country proud of its natural beauty and peacekeeping status. Today, it's a highly polluting nation engaged in full-blown warfare. Internationally, Canada's image changes, even as Canadians are slow to catch on.

In ths same article I quote NDP and Green Party as well as the others, and there is not much there. They too want votes.

Canada had the highest per capita use of primary energy, and the highest CO2 emissions level, in the entire world. That's an accomplishment.

Canada is also arguably the country most affected by climate change, since the Arctic warms much faster than more southern regions. But Harper still calls global warming "an evolving science". He doesn't care that his kids and grandkids will never see a polar bear. He cares for power.

The real picture on an international level, which may even wake up some drowsy Canadians at home too, will emerge on November 6, when the Environment Minister of the worst polluting country on the planet, will chair the follow-up to last year's Montreal Kyoto conference, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Canada won't be a laughing stock, it'll be an embarrassment for all other signatories. And they'll let us know about it.

In case you haven't yet, read this on Harper's rise to power. It'll explain a lot.

And an Angus Reid poll that shows Candians don't trust their government to solve climate problems.

The biggest problem is theere is no alternative government that could be trusted to do it. We have become the US.

Lets not get carried away Roel...  

Harper heads a minority party that squeaked into power and has been declining in popularity ever since.  Proposed legislation such as Clean Air is just another nail in the coffin because it's not what Canadians want and you know it.

'We have become the US' - is a dum statement and shocking to see on TOD Canada.

Well, what do Canadians want, according to you?

I think they want to keeo driving their cars and grow their economy. And that is not compatible with our Kyoto commitments.

Say Harper loses the next election. Which I doubt. W didn't lose his either, despite predictions. But alright, say he does. What will come in his place? Liberal Party? They spent 8 years saying, but not doing the right things.

NDP and Green Party are caught in the same conundrum: They may want to act, but can't, because it will cost them votes. So they end up saying really, really stupid things.

Canadians want to hear the green words (and hence get them from their "leaders"), but not act according to them (so the "leaders" don't do anything). Which suits everyone just fine except for the polar bears and the grandchildren. But then again, they don't vote, do they?

I live in a country that is fast flushing itself down the US drain. And if you find that shocking, I am sorry. For the country. And the polar bears and grandchildren.

The majority of Canadians want to abide by their international obligations i.e. Kyoto Protocol, of which Canada is a signatory.

Should the Conservatives choose not to stick to what has already been agreed, then they run the risk of not only damaging Canada's reputation but also the risk of losing power outright as all three opposition parties have stated that they will not support this Clean Air legislation.

That said... regardless of the party in charge and/or future legislation proposed, there's simply no way GHG targets of any kind in this country can be met without first addressing Canada's Cancer - the tar sands.

The Canadian constitution says Ottawa has no jurisdiction over the regulation of air pollutants.

That's indeed the key point, as I understand it. I'll be interested to see if it's made by the MSM. What it means is that Canada can't do anything unilateral in this field. Consultation with the provinces and consultation with industry have to produce voluntary agreements in order for federal leadership to have any tangible benefits.

I suppose I should read the link!  

BC is good example of this statement.  The province is currently looking at implementing California auto emissions standards for all vehicles sold.
While Harper yesterday announced Canada will abide by US federal standards.
I'm hoping that this will get ugly, but without much faith.
California gets away with it because their population (~34 million) is close to the size of Canada's and, these days, because Maine (1.3m), Massachusets (6.4m), New York (19m)and Vermont (0.6m) have jumped on California's bandwagon.  

Some new vehicles sold in the rest of the USA (and Canada) can't be sold in these 5 states, though I have no idea how that works out in practice. Adding BC (4.6m) to the list could have more of an impact on the Canadian auto industry than on air quality. Would that be good policy?

It should go without saying that the federal-state division of powers is very different from what we have in Canada, but TOD Canada may have a few non-Canadian readers. Emissions from new vehicles in Canada are regulated under Canada's Environmental Protection Act and, incidentally, have been harmonized with US standards since 2004. The MSM seems to have missed this point too. Would separate provincial regulations be likely to stand a constitutional challenge?