January 29, 2007

Environmental groups offer proposals to strengthen draft Clean Air Act

A coalition of eight environmental organizations has written to the federal parliamentary committee responsible for reviewing Bill C-30, the proposed Clean Air Act, asking the committee to begin consideration of the bill immediately.

In addition to pledging its support for, and expertise to, the process, the coalition has submitted a package of recommendations aimed at making the Clean Air Act as effective as possible. As the centerpiece of the government's announcements on the environment, the draft legislation has been widely criticized as an inadequate response to the challenges of climate change and air pollution.

In a joint statement, the environmental groups state, "We believe that all parties understand the need for urgent action on climate change and clean air. We are asking the committee to devote their full attention to quickly improving the proposed Act. We expect that the Committee can amend Bill C-30 within a time period on the order of four weeks, so a strong Act can be implemented as soon as possible."

The proposals, developed under the auspices of the Climate Action Network (CAN), call for amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) and to the federal Energy Efficiency Act, to be made through Bill C-30, as well as the inclusion of new text in the draft act relating to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Through the bill, for example, the groups say CEPA should be amended to require the introduction of national standards for ambient air quality, replacing the existing voluntary guidelines. The standards should be based on a review of those in jurisdictions such as the U.S., the European Union and Australia, and should aim to meet or surpass best practice.

Bill C-30's provision for the creation of new categories in CEPA called "greenhouse gases" and "air pollutants," together with parallel regulatory authorities for each, should be removed, as should a proposed change in CEPA standards for equivalency, says the coalition. The new categories are not necessary and could attract litigation, and the altered equivalency provision could substantially weaken CEPA's authority. CEPA currently requires equivalency of regulation, where Bill C-30 proposes a shift to equivalency of effect.

The coalition further recommends that the draft act amend CEPA to allow the Environment Minister to designate "significant areas" which would be eligible for additional monitoring, research or reporting. This would provide an extra measure of protection for environmentally vulnerable regions such as the Arctic ecosystem or regions such as the Great Lakes-St Lawrence airshed associated with the generation of substantial volumes of toxic substances.

Greenhouse gas-specific recommendations call for the legislation to include short-, medium- and long-term emission reduction targets for all sectors. Interim domestic GHG emission reduction targets should be set at five-year intervals between 2015 and 2050, with a 2020 target of 25% below 1990 levels. A long-term target of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 is proposed.

Bill C-30 should also be amended to require the introduction of limits on GHG emissions from heavy industry, effective in 2008, together with clear targets and performance standards. The bill should require regulations setting a fixed cap on GHG emissions from heavy industry (established on a sectoral or geographic basis) and providing for a permit trading system.

Another proposed revision to the bill calls for the establishment of an arms-length "emissions reduction agency" which would be responsible for independently facilitating and implementing domestic actions to reduce GHG emissions.

Further recommendations address amendments to the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act, as well as conditions for the coming into force of the Clean Air Act. The letter submitted to the parliamentary committee was signed by eight organizations: the Pembina Institute, WWF-Canada, Sierra Legal, Nature Canada, Equiterre, Greenpeace, Pollution Probe and Environmental Defence.

More information, including the list of recommendations, is available on the Climate Action Network Web site, www.climateactionnetwork.ca/e/.

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