Environment Minster Perry Trimper plans to get serious about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
He has marching orders to go after the province’s big polluters.
Trimper just got back from a meeting of ministers from across the country talking about climate change, and he said the government will draw up hard targets for emissions reductions, and legislation to make it happen.
Trimper said more than 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the province come from industrial sources.
“On a per capita basis, we are still putting a lot of stuff into the sky,” he said.
“So in my mandate, you’ll see there’s a very clear direction to go after the large industrial emitters.”
But Tory environment critic Barry Petten said putting a price on carbon emissions will be a tricky task. Petten said if it’s done wrong, it will lead to the shutdown of the Come By Chance refinery.
“With the present economic conditions we’re facing, I don’t know if this is the time to go after big industry on carbon tax,” Petten said. “We all know that climate change and polluters — everyone gets that — but is this the right environment for going after big industry?”
There’s only a short list of big emitters in the province. The offshore oil production rigs produce a fair bit of greenhouse gas, but Trimper said they have a special status because of the Atlantic Accord and shared federal-provincial jurisdiction.
“Within the province, we can certainly move forward with the large industrial emitters onshore, so that’s what we’re doing,” Trimper said. “In terms of the offshore, it requires careful collaboration with the federal government.”
But in terms of onshore industrial emitters, there’s really only the Iron Ore Company (IOC) mine in Labrador West, the Holyrood oil-burning power plant and the Come By Chance refinery.
And with both the price of iron ore and oil tanking right now, IOC and Come By Chance are already in a precarious spot.
“Whatever you bring in, no matter what way you paint it, it’s still going to be a tax,” Petten said.
“You’re going to basically indirectly force them out of business, and it is a tough situation. It is a tough one to address.”
Trimper said the government is weighing options, but the basic choices come down to a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax or some sort of industry-by-industry regulatory scheme.
Trimper said joining some other jurisdiction’s cap-and-trade system might be tricky, because it would take time to get in, and then you’d be playing by their rules.
A benefit of a carbon tax is that it could drum up some money for the government, which is grappling with a $2-billion deficit.
But NDP MHA Lorraine Michael said if the government decides to do a carbon tax, it shouldn’t be primarily motivated by raising money.
As for the concerns about wrecking the economy?
“Well, the economy is already wrecked, isn’t it?” Michael said. “It’s complicated. It’s not simple. But we can’t run away from it either, and I think we’ve been running away from it for too long, as a province.”
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