Tories unveil environmental standards for oilsands

The Record, Kitchener-Waterloo: Alexander Panetta - March 11, 2008

The federal government has announced stricter standards on oilsands projects and coal plants built after 2011 as a key plank of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After that point, the oil-and-gas and coal sectors will be forced to employ carbon capture and storage or other green technologies by 2018 in each of those new developments.

Environment Minister John Baird described the measures as part of a get-tough approach with the oil industry. His critics in opposition and in the environmental movement dismissed that as empty rhetoric.

The Tories reaffirmed that 16 different industrial sectors will share similar targets: 18 per cent cuts in emission intensity by 2010, with absolute annual cuts of two per cent thereafter. The government says those cuts would result in a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2006 levels by 2020. More detailed targets for individual companies -- along with the penalties for missing them -- will only be published later in the year.

The government says the new requirements on the oil-and-gas and coal sectors will by themselves account for more than half of the total cuts expected from industry by 2020.

Yesterday's announcement also carried additional information for companies that will be subjected to the new regulations.

To help them achieve their targets, companies that over-pollute will be able to buy offset credits in environmental programs that reduce emissions elsewhere.

The offset system will be administered through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and eligible programs will need to be verified and approved by Environment Canada.

Environmental groups said there's no indication how existing tar sands projects would see their pollution curbed. If anything, one said, they just encourage companies to develop faster to avoid the stricter regulations. "The message here is basically, 'Get your shovels in the ground,"' said Dale Marshall of the Suzuki Institute.

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