Activists force consultation re Ontario’s cap and trade policy as Environment Commissioner pans government’s actions to date

Ontario commissioner Report-Cover-In the annual Greenhouse Gas Reduction Progress Report for 2018, titled Climate Action in Ontario: what’s next? , the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has published a blunt critique of the Conservative government’s actions to date.

As was widely reported, the  government in Ontario (among other actions) tried to dismantle the province’s cap and trade program after its election, introducing  Bill 4, the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018  on July 25 .  The Environmental Commissioner wrote:

 “Unfortunately, cap and trade was both complex and poorly communicated; for some, its costs were more obvious than its benefits. Today, cap and trade, the low-carbon programs that it funded, and 752 renewable energy projects have all been swept away, with nothing in their place. The government’s proposed replacement, the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act (Bill 4), currently lacks most of the features of a good climate law.…. There is no perfect answer, but the best international model for long-term consistency is the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act. The U.K. Parliament sets legally binding long-term emission limits, plus five-year carbon budgets 12 years in advance, based on non-partisan, expert advice and reporting. Ontario should do the same.”

The Commissioner’s report includes appendices, including Appendix B: Revenue from cap and trade: What was it used for?

On September 11, environmental activists filed a lawsuit against Bill 4, alleging that it violates the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights because no public consultations were held on the  matter.  On the same day, a notice appeared in the Environmental Registry,  allowing  for comments online or in writing, until October 11.    EcoJustice, one of the groups behind the lawsuit, (along with Greenpeace  and the University of Ottawa) has posted a summary of all these developments on September 25 in “Let Premier Ford know where you stand on climate action”, urging comments.

Jumping in to this debate:  Canadians for Clean Prosperity, which commissioned a study to examine the costs and benefits of carbon “costs” (e.g. fuel and household heating) in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, in the event that the federal carbon price backstop is triggered in 2019.  The author, Dave Sawyer of EnviroEconomics, concludes that most households, regardless of income, would receive more money through rebates than they would pay out through a carbon price, assuming that all fees are rebated to consumers.   The report summary is here ; the formal report is  Federal Carbon Price Impacts on Households in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario  .  An economist’s (Brendan Frank) explanation of the EnviroEconomics report appears in an  EcoFiscal Commission blog “How carbon dividends affect incentives (hint: they don’t)”  (Sept. 26).

B.C. consultation on “Clean Growth” policies for transportation, industry, and the built environment

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgWhile British Columbia is understandably preoccupied with the devastating wildfires raging across the entire province, an engagement process called Towards a Clean Growth Future in B.C.  was launched on July 20, with a short, summertime deadline of August 24.

Three brief Intentions Papers have been published to solicit public input : Clean Transportation ,which discusses policies to incentivize Zero Emissions Vehicles – including the possibility of a ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel light duty vehicles by 2040;  Clean, Efficient Buildings,  which proposes five steps to cleaner buildings, including Energy efficiency labeling information, financial incentives, and additional training for workers in energy efficient retrofitting and in the new-build Energy Step code; and A Clean Growth Program for Industry , which includes the province’s Industrial Incentive under the carbon tax regime and addresses the potential dangers of “carbon leakage”.

Public Submissions are available online  and to date have been submitted by: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), written by Marc Lee ; Closer Commutes ;   The Wilderness Committee ; and  The Pembina Institute , which at 37 pages is extremely detailed, and includes 5 recommendations relating to Training and Certification for Clean Buildings,  including  a call for “a construction labour strategy that addresses skilled labour gaps and equity issues in the building industry. Integrate with emerging technology and innovation strategy to foster greater use of automation and prefabrication.”

The West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCEL)  also posted a thorough discussion of the Clean Growth proposals on its own website on August 16.  “BC’s decade-delayed climate strategies show why we need legal accountability” by Andrew Gage notes that the intentions papers are largely built on existing proposals (some dating back to the 2008 Climate Action Team  Report ), and that they are not complete, as the government is also developing proposals through its  Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council  and the newly appointed Emerging Economy Task Force .  (The Wilderness Committee calls the proposals “underwhelming”). Whatever the final policies that flow from these consultations, WCEL emphasizes the importance of demanding accountability, and like Marc Lee in his submission, points to the success of the U.K.’s Climate Accountability Act (2008). WCEL has previously critiqued  Bill 34, B.C.’s  Climate Change Accountability Act which received Royal Assent on  May 31 2018.

Another commentary, appearing in the National Observer (July 27) addresses the weakness of the transportation proposals.  “B.C.’s climate plan needs a push – from you”  refers to the author’s more detailed report, Transportation Transformation: Building complete communities and a zero-emission transportation system in BC , which was published by the CCPA in 2011.

The CCPA also published an article on August 2, 2018 in Policy Note:  “The Problem with B.C.’s Clean Growth climate rhetoric” . Author Marc Lee reviews the history of the term “clean growth” and offers his critique, noting that clean growth “promises change without fundamentally disrupting the existing economic and social order.”

Individuals have until August 24 to can email their input to clean.growth@gov.bc.ca .

Job losses feared as Ontario government cancels renewable energy contracts

On  July 13, the Province of Ontario announced the immediate cancellation of 758 renewable energy projects, calling them “unnecessary and wasteful” .  In “Inside Ontario’s clean energy contract cancellations”  by GreenTech Media  (July 26), the CEO of the Canadian Solar Industry Association estimates that  Ontario will lose 6,000 jobs and half a billion dollars of investment as a result, although the general tone of the article displays confidence in the unstoppable momentum of clean energy.  The decision, however, has thrown the industry into confusion, disappointed some consumers, and is seen as a blow to Ontario’s reputation amongst investors.

A sampling of reaction:  “Green shift to green slump: How trade decisions and electoral politics are crippling the vision of a clean Canadian power play”    in the Globe and Mail (Aug. 3)

Solar companies may exit Ontario for Alberta after Doug Ford kills rebate program”    from CBC News

Renewable Energy stocks slide as Ontario vows to scrap clean- power projects” in the Globe and Mail  (July 13)

Clean power advocates disappointed by defiant in the face of Ford’s sweeping cuts”   (July 17) in the National Observer

Cancellation of Energy Contracts Punishes Famers, School Boards, Municipalities and First Nations”   a press release from the Canadian Solar Industries Association.  CanWEA also responded to the announcements with a disjointed compilation of links about the benefits of wind energy  (July 13) .

wind turbine and cowsOne high profile  example of the cancelled projects:  the White Pines wind project in Prince Edward County, owned by German company WPD ,  which was first approved in 2010 and was weeks away from completion when it was cancelled by Bill 2, The Urgent Priorities Act.  Local reaction appeared in  The Picton Gazette , and the National Observer published an extensive four part report, “Inside one Ontario town’s  decade long wind war”  .    CBC News published  “Ford government’s plan to cancel wind project could cost taxpayers over $100M, company warns”  , and even the conservative National Post published “John Ivison: Wind turbine decision says Doug Ford’s Ontario is closed for business”   (July 23), calling it a “bone-headed”decision.  Activist group Leadnow.ca has posted on online petition, “Save the White Pines project”  .

 

 

Doug Ford has begun to dismantle Ontario’s climate leadership – Step 1, exit the cap-and-trade agreement

Doug FordAs a result of the provincial election on June 7, Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford will take power as the premier of Ontario on  June 29, 2018.  Even before that hand-over date, he has begun to make the changes many feared –  announcing on June 15 that Ontario will exit the cap and trade market of the Western Climate Initiative (which includes California and Quebec)  and on June 19,  cancelling the $377-million Green Ontario Fund,  financed by the proceeds of cap-and-trade auctions and which provided consumer incentives for energy efficiency improvements.  On June 21, he committed to keep the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in operation until 2024  –  in the name of protecting 4,500 local jobs and an additional 3,000 jobs province-wide.  Some general articles about the Ford government appeared in The Tyee  “Green hopes, NDP fears, and PC Dreams: The challenges that await Ontario in Ford Nation” (June 15);  “What does a Doug Ford victory mean for the climate?”  in The Narwhal (by DeSmog Canada),  and “Doug Ford’s Environmental policies light on details, advocates say” on CBC News (June 13).

Ford’s decision to end the cap and trade market has many implications – the possibility of lawsuits from investors and companies who had bought carbon credits, as well as a direct confrontation with the federal government, which requires all provinces to enact carbon pricing by 2019, under the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Energy and Climate Change.  Additionally, the federal government  just passed Bill C-74, which includes Part 5: The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act on June 14 , the day before Ford’s announcement.  For discussion of the carbon pricing issue, see  “Ontario’s Doug Ford says the province is abandoning its price on carbon pollution” in the National Observer (June 15) ;  “PC’s will end Ontario cap and trade program, Ford vows” in the Globe and Mail (June 15).  An official reaction from Environmental Defence is here , with more detail in their blog, “What you need to know about Ontario’s carbon pricing drama” . From the Ecofiscal Commission, “Tread Carefully: Ontario’s cap-and-trade system meets a fork in the road” (June 8) , and “Can Ontario hits its targets without carbon pricing?”  (June 21) , which discusses the two remaining options for reducing emissions: regulations and incentives.  Finally,  the arguments are summed up in the Unifor press release, “Unifor urges Premier-designate Doug Ford to maintain the cap and trade system” : “Workers in Ontario need forward-looking policies with the intention to build a green economy, but instead Ford announced his intention to cancel a successful program and pick an unnecessary fight with the federal government…. Workers accept that climate change is real and need our government to lead with a real, predictable plan to reduce emissions and grow green jobs.”

British Columbia sets new GHG reduction targets, reviews environmental assessment process

Amidst the noise and fury of the B.C.-Alberta feud over the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline,  the province of British Columbia is moving forward with reform of its climate change policies. On April 25, the  B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council released a detailed letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy , describing the Council’s principles, supporting much of the government’s current direction, and making recommendations, based on the 2015 recommendations of the province’s Climate Leadership Team. Shortly thereafter, on May 7, a government press release  committed to  a new provincial climate action strategy to be released in autumn 2018, including plans for GHG emission reduction  for buildings and communities, industry and transportation sectors.

With that same press release, the government announced Bill 34, the Climate Change Accountability Act,  which amends the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (2007), repealing the emissions reduction target for 2020 (generally deemed unachievable)  and sets new targets: reduction of GHG’s by 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  Accountability looms large in the responses to Bill 34.  The Pembina Institute  notes the failure of recent GHG emissions reductions, and calls for “a robust accountability mechanism to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself ”. In addition, Pembina notes that any development of emissions-intensive industries, such as liquefied natural gas, would jeopardize the province’s climate progress.

In “Looking for accountability in BC’s Climate Change Accountability Act”,  West Coast Environment Law reviews B.C.’s emissions reduction progress , summarizes responses by other environmental groups to Bill 34, and recommends how the government can incorporate principles of accountability and transparency in its new policies.  Similar concerns are discussed in “A Carbon Budget Framework for BC: Achieving accountability and oversight”  by Marc Lee, in CCPA’s Policy Notes (May 22).

Another policy issue under review in B.C. is environmental assessment, with a 12-member advisory committee appointed in March 2018, a public discussion paper promised for May, and reforms to come in Fall.  The government portal to the “Revitalization” process is here ;  “B.C. Moves Ahead With Review of Controversial Environmental Assessment Process”  (Mar 8) summarizes the situation.   On May 9,  twenty-three environmental, legal, social justice and community organizations released  Achieving Sustainability: A Vision for Next-Generation Environmental Assessment in British Columbia , which calls for an independent environmental assessment body which will involve the public, and require decision-makers to demonstrate that their decisions are based on science and Indigenous knowledge. A summary, with links to more detailed discussion  is provided by West Coast Environmental Law.  Analysis and practical examples are provided by Sarah Cox in  “Time For a Fix: B.C. Looks at Overhaul of Reviews for Mines, Dams and Pipelines”, which  appeared in April in the newly-named newsletter from DeSmog Canada, The Narwhal.