Harper still rolling out rules that will waste billions
The annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must be intimidating events for Canadian environment ministers. Year after year they are expected to present Canada’s “green credentials” to appease international eco-critics.
In the fall of 2010, the Harper government pledged $400-million to fulfill our Copenhagen Accord “commitments.” We had no legal obligation to do this, but it gave then environment minister John Baird something to boast about at the Cancun COP summit in December.
This year Environment Minister Peter Kent will have something even more expensive, and even less useful, to brag about: CO2 regulations on coal-fired electricity generation.
Every school child knows what CO2 is. We breathe it out and plants breathe it in. It is odourless, invisible and an essential reactant in photosynthesis, on which all life depends. Increases in atmospheric CO2 levels have enhanced agricultural productivity across the world, allowing crops to grow in areas that are otherwise too dry.
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Yet, for the past six years, the Canadian government has included CO2 in its “List of Toxic Substances” in Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
Environment Canada tells us that CEPA is “aimed at preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health.” So, what is CO2 doing on CEPA’s toxins and pollutants list, which includes PCBs, mercury, asbestos, lead and sulphur dioxide? The CEPA Web page gives the startling answer: “This substance is not classified as toxic, but remains managed under Schedule 1 of CEPA … in order to enable the government the use of a variety of preventive or control actions.”
During their last days as Canada’s Official Opposition in late 2005, the Conservatives fought bitterly against this obvious abuse of process. Even several key Liberals, including Alan Tonks, MP, then chairman of the Commons committee on environment and sustainable development, said they were uncomfortable using an anti-pollution law to regulate CO2.
Testifying before the committee, University of Guelph professor of economics Ross McKitrick said, “That proposal … runs the risk of bringing CEPA itself into disrepute by enshrining something obviously untrue into it.… I can’t imagine it was ever in the minds of the people who wrote that section, that it would be used to cover anything like carbon dioxide.”
Nevertheless, as one of its last acts in power, the Liberal government added CO2 to the list of toxins covered by CEPA.
You would expect that the new Harper Conservative government would have quickly removed CO2 from CEPA. Even a minority government can add or remove substances from Schedule 1 of CEPA simply by a decision of the Cabinet.
Instead, it left CO2 in CEPA like a time bomb ready to prop up future regulations.
Fast forward to 2011. The Conservatives have a majority government. The opposition is in disarray. Canadians are less interested in the environment than they have been in decades. Will the Conservative government finally remove CO2 from CEPA?
Not a chance. Instead they are now using CEPA as the statutory authority to create new CO2 regulations.
First it was CO2 rules on new cars and light trucks. Then there were Regulations for Renewable Fuel Content in Gasoline. Then it was heavy-duty-vehicle CO2 emissions control. “Next, we’ll address ways to get a number of heavy industries to reduce their emissions,” Kent told the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources on Tuesday. The government’s new plan will “phase out the use of dirty coal to generate electricity in Canada.”
Power companies fear that these rules will reduce the reliability of the electricity system while increasing costs in regions that depend largely on coal-fired power and removing coal-fired electricity as an affordable option in the future.
Besides its flawed legal foundation, the CO2/coal-station regulations are riddled with serious mistakes and misrepresentations. For example, the second sentence in the regulations states: “The most significant sources of GHG emissions are anthropogenic, mostly as a result of combustion of fossil fuels.”
Howard Hayden, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Connecticut, responds: “This is either incredibly ignorant or an out-and-out lie. Combustion of fossil fuels is responsible for about 3.5% of all CO2 emissions. Is that their idea of “mostly”?”
Kent implies that the new CO2/coal regulations are largely about pollution reduction and clean air, saying in his speech on Aug. 19 that the proposed rules “will — literally — let all Canadians breathe easier. Our government understands Canadians’ concerns around the quality of the air we breathe.”
But the government’s own analysis, as laid out in the proposed regulations, shows that there will be negligible, in fact immeasurable, “air-quality improvements experienced by typical residents” of Canada by 2030. Specifically, fine-particulate-matter pollution is forecast to drop by 0.21% and ground-level ozone by 0.09% for the country as a whole.
The forecast pollution reduction, according to government modelling, yields health benefits from reduced smog exposure of $1.4-billion. This is highly speculative and ignores the fact that, below certain levels, pollution often has no impact on health whatsoever. Regardless, practically all of the regulations’ supposed benefit of $1.5-billion net present value — the net between the benefits and the cost — is accounted for by these alleged health benefits.
The Harper government should remove CO2 from the list of toxins regulated under CEPA. Doing this would immediately nullify all CO2 regulations that use CEPA as the statutory authority.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent rejection of Environmental Protection Agency ozone rules suggests that the United States will not be as aggressive on CO2 reductions as originally feared. Since Canada’s environmental policy is largely driven by a need to be consistent with the Americans, our government must immediately stop creating new greenhouse-gas regulations, at least until the situation in the United States becomes clear. Otherwise, we will be stuck with economically damaging CO2 rules that are scientifically unfounded and probably politically unnecessary as well.
In his Senate testimony, Kent supported the fantasy that humanity could limit the Earth’s temperature rise to “meet the two-degree target set out in the Cancun Agreement,” adding: “In the case of climate change, our goal remains to have a new international regime that includes all major emitters and which will take concrete actions to limit global warming.”
Instead of such unrealistic pronouncements, Kent needs to tell the truth at the UN COP meeting in December: Carbon dioxide is not pollution and an unbiased assessment of the science indicates that the climatic impact of our greenhouse-gas emissions is simply unknown. Canada can no longer afford to waste billions simply to appease irrational campaigners at international climate conferences.
Tom Harris is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition.
Some additional notes to go along with the article:
The new CO2/coal station regulations are a huge risk if the main alternative to coal, natural gas, turns out to less abundant, or more expensive to extract, than is currently assumed, or if activists succeed in stopping hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’).
The largest supposed benefit of the new rules is “the avoided social cost of carbon” (SCC). Rated at having a value of $4.3 billion, these are the costs the Government asserts will be avoided by reducing Canada’s CO2 emissions by the amount prescribed under the regulations. But, since Canada’s CO2 emissions have essentially no impact on climate, SCC is effectively zero.
Therefore the new rules are pointless and the regulations simply a net cost to taxpayers.
The new draft regulations on coal stations may be seen here:
The public (from anywhere, I presume) is invited to comment on the new regulations by contacting the following Environment Canada representative:
Electricity and Combustion Division
351 Saint-Joseph Boulevard
International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)
P.O. Box 23013
Ottawa, Ontario K2A 4E2