Albertans are Ready for Stronger Emissions Regulations. Will They Get Them?

A new Ipsos Reid poll released today shows 76 per cent of Albertans are in favour of stronger greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations for industrial facilities.

The federal government has faced scrutiny for failing to release GHG performance regulations for the oil and gas sector for several years. Alberta’s existing rules, the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER), are set to expire on September 1, 2014.

Facing the release of a new climate plan and potential new carbon tax arrangement, Alberta premier Dave Hancock said his government is in talks with industry.

“There are some producers – there are lots of producers – who would say: ‘Don’t do anything, this is already a cost to us, and we can’t afford to pay more because we don’t have any room to innovate, so it’s just a cost to us.’ The more progressive operators would say: ‘If incented appropriately, we can look harder,’” Hancock said.

“How do you actually create a process where big emitters can find a way to meet standards? It’s not a tax, it’s an alternative way of meeting the outcome,” he said.

A Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote is scheduled for September 6, leading some to speculate new emissions regulations will be left off the table until a later date.

“Waiting for consensus means waiting indefinitely,” Simon Dyer, the Pembina Institute’s regional director for Alberta and the North, said. “Albertans clearly want their government to make a decision and move forward with stronger greenhouse gas rules for industry.”

Alberta’s oilsands represent Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 under the Copenhagen Accord. Environment Canada’s most recent emissions report, released in October 2013, shows Canada’s current measures are inadequate for reaching our emissions reductions targets.

Emissions trends reported in Environment Canada's 2013 Emissions Report.

A new study released by Globe International that examined nearly 500 pieces of climate legislation in 66 countries found Canada had “no flagship legislation” for climate despite being in the top 20 worldwide emitters. The report also notes Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord in 2011.

According to the Pembina Institute, “if Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world.” They also report “7 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from oilsands plants and upgraders in 2010.”

Emissions from the extraction and upgrading of oilsands bitumen is estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive on a per barrel basis than conventional crude produced elsewhere in Canada or the U.S.

Alberta’s favoured “double-double” emissions reduction plan would require companies to pay a $30 per tonne penalty if emissions were not reduced by 24 per cent per unit of production, according to the Pembina Institute.

“Another delay to improving Alberta’s emissions rules represents a liability for an industry that thrives on certainty and is under scrutiny for its climate impacts. Strengthening these rules would send an important signal to Alberta’s customers that taking action on climate change is a priority,” Dyer said.

The new poll shows strengthening emissions standards is strongest among university graduates, 83 per cent of whom support stronger regulations. Just 6 per cent of poll respondents opposed or were strongly opposed to stronger rules, while 18 per cent said they were unsure whether or not they were in support.

Image Credit: Kris Krug via flickr

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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