August 21, 2006

Environment policy vigil: how much of a hit will industry take?

By: Colin Isaacs

The federal government is planning that environment and climate change will be among the top public policy issues in Canada this fall. That follows opinion polls which now place environment second only to health as the most important issue to Canadians.

Environment is a difficult debate to manage at the best of times. With a controlling Prime Minister, an inexperienced environment minister, and a political need to satisfy environment interests in Quebec and industry interests in Alberta, this year's environment debate is likely to get seriously out of hand. When that happens it is usually industry that ends up taking the hit.

There is no official information yet on what will be in the government's environment package, Green Plan 2, the descendant of the original Green Plan introduced by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. However, it was much easier for Mulroney to craft and sell a Green Plan in 1990 than it will be for Harper to repeat the success in 2006.

Like the first Green Plan, Green Plan 2 will likely be structured around such topics as clean air, water and land, sustaining our renewable resources, special spaces and species, the Arctic, global environmental security, decision-making, starting in our own house, and emergency preparedness.

The balance of emphasis will likely be similar to Green Plan 1, including biodiversity and national parks initiatives, some (as yet unknown) water protection initiatives, yet another plan to clean up contaminated sites, and a clean technology strategy that goes beyond the existing Sustainable Development Technology Canada funding program.

Amendments to the federal environment assessment process may draw much of the controversy. The amount of money devoted to the new Green Plan will likely be much less than the $3 billion that was earmarked in 1990.

Of most immediate interest to industry in general will be the Clean Air Act and new regulations for the phase-out of certain toxic substances. While the proposals themselves will likely be long-term and manageable, the public debate may especially affect companies involved with burning of waste, hazardous metal emissions, chlorine chemistry, and suspected carcinogens.

The National Pollutant Release Inventory system is likely to be strengthened, and there are suggestions that the federal government will re-engage in issues associated with packaging and waste management.

The Clean Air Act will include criteria air contaminant rules, greenhouse gas emissions, and clean energy, including biofuel standards and targets. It will set emission reduction targets that are much longer-term and will likely be much deeper than the 2012 target of the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestic emissions trading will almost certainly be permitted by the Act, which is rumoured to be a Canadianized version of US legislation. A new index for air quality, based on health parameters, is expected to be part of the package.

Federal officials have also been studying the U.K. government's approach to air pollution, which includes requiring large, and possibly medium-sized, emitters to install and operate automated continuous stack gas monitors that meet specified performance standards.

Colin Isaacs, head of the CIAL Group and publisher of the Gallon Environmental Letter, reviews environment-related trends in policy (government and corporate) and legislation for EcoWeek. Comments may be E-mailed to cisaacs@compuserve.com.

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