October 6, 2006

Kyoto linked to soaring power bills

Canadians would see their hydro and natural-gas bills spike dramatically should the three opposition parties succeed in forcing the government to comply with Kyoto, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose warned Thursday.

Ms. Ambrose was appearing before the Commons environment committee for the first time since she was sworn in to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in February.

Though she outlined the broad direction of her fall environmental plan and gave a few more hints as to where the government is headed, opposition MPs left frustrated that she did not provide any new information.

Often chided by opposition MPs for being tightly scripted in her public comments, Ms. Ambrose was more freewheeling Thursday during her 1½-hour appearance. She frequently scolded Liberal MPs on the committee, including former environment minister Stéphane Dion, for setting unattainable Kyoto targets that could be met only by purchasing international credits.

Along with other Conservative MPs, Ms. Ambrose attacked the private member’s bill from Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez that would force the government to meets its 2008-2012 Kyoto targets. The bill passed at second reading in the House Tuesday.

“Electricity prices in British Columbia would increase by 40 per cent, electricity prices in Ontario would increase by 65 per cent, natural gases prices would increase by over 300 per cent in Alberta and over 130 per cent in Ontario. These are the kind of impacts of enforcing the [Kyoto] target on Canada’s industry today which is exactly what [Mr. Rodriguez’s bill] entails,” she said, as opposition MPs groaned dismissively.

Ms. Ambrose told the committee she had asked her department to produce the cost estimates to consumers of meeting Canada’s Kyoto targets solely through regulation within the country and not including buying of greenhouse-gas credits as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.

The minister did not explain, however, how her department arrived at its details.

Officials said later the department’s estimates were based on the assumption that power companies would have to bring in new technologies, or increase their use of renewable energy such as wind power.

“This was ridiculous. She’s trying to scare people,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Yes, it will require some sacrifices, it will require effort, but it’s worth it to fight climate change.”

Mr. Rodriguez said Commons lawyers told him the government would be bound by the bill if it passes. It is on pace for a final vote in June or earlier.

Canadian Electricity Association vice-president Francis Bradley said it is difficult to comment on the minister’s estimates without knowing the details of how they were arrived at.

“I’m far from convinced that it’s even possible,” said Mr. Bradley of the industry’s ability to meet the Kyoto targets solely through regulation.

Bringing in new technology takes time and a quick increase in renewable power, such as wind generation, would obviously mean more costs to the consumer, he said.

Conservative Whip Jay Hill expressed doubt that the Prime Minister would declare the final vote on the bill to be a matter of confidence, but was not sure what impact it would have on the government.

In terms of new details on her yet-to-be-released environment plan, Ms. Ambrose confirmed companies will be allowed to trade credits between themselves as a way of complying with new mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

But unlike the Liberal plan, Ms. Ambrose said the Conservatives will not contribute tax dollars to the system, nor will it purchase any form of international credits.

Ms. Ambrose defended her government’s decision not to comply with Canada’s Kyoto commitments to reduce greenhouse gases to 6 per cent below 1990 levels in the period between 2008-2012.

“Kyoto did not fail this country. The Liberal Party of Canada failed Kyoto,” she said.

Ms. Ambrose told MPs her plan will also focus on improving clean air and banning cancer-causing toxins.

Most environmentalists who attended Ms. Ambrose’s appearance expressed concern that the Conservative plan appears to involve further delay through consultations and new legislation, rather than immediate action using existing laws.

“This is about doing nothing. It’s not about doing something good. This is exactly the pattern that [U.S. President] George Bush has exhibited over the last six years,” said environmentalist John Bennett, of the Sierra Club.

By Bill Curry
With a report from Tavia Grant


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