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In Redford's Alberta, tailpipe emissions a bigger concern than oil sands pollution

Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaks in Ottawa, on November 17, 2011. When Redford delivers her first budget in 2012, it won't be balanced, but she says it also won't be one her rivals can run on.

Sean Kilpatrick/CP/Sean Kilpatrick/CP

In some places across the continent, "tailpipe emissions" are a bigger concern than the greenhouse gases produced by the oil sands, according to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who plans to introduce rebates to encourage consumers to reduce their own carbon footprints.

In a year-end interview, Ms. Redford also responded to critics of Alberta's so-called "dirty oil" who argue that the province isn't doing enough to curb pollution from the multi-billion dollar mega-projects north of Fort McMurray. She pointed out the province has invested in new technologies, such as a $2-billion carbon capture and storage program, and that Alberta was the first jurisdiction in North America to place a carbon price on large emitters.

Ms. Redford pledged that her Tory government plans to do even more.

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"Emissions from oil sands are not as a big a contributor as tailpipe emissions from other parts of North America," she explained.

"We'll always strive to do better and striving to do better does mean continuing to invest in technologies," Ms. Redford continued. "It also means putting in place an energy economy and an environment with incentives to individual consumers so that they're able to make acceptable choices."

Ms. Redford said she will assess whether renewable energy could be added to the electricity grid and will roll out new, although unspecified, policies around environmental sustainability. Her government will unveil a budget early next year, which will be followed by an election call for sometime between Mar. 1 and May 31 as required under a new provincial law.

The Pembina Institute recently released a report that concluded Alberta's current approach to climate change will result in less than one-third of the greenhouse gas reductions than the province had previously promised.

According to Simon Dyer, Pembina's policy director, unless Alberta does a lot more – and soon – the province's emissions will only be cut by 14 megatonnes, not 50 megatonnes pledged by the 2020 timeframe.

"Pembina supports the idea that we should apply carbon pricing to as many sectors to the economy and some of those costs would flow to consumers," said Mr. Dyer.

He said levies should be placed on all industry pollution and that the current carbon price needs to be hiked. A "comprehensive" consumer incentive program would further help, he said.

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Mr. Dyer also pointed to British Columbia, which has an economy-wide tax on carbon fuels ranging from gasoline to natural gas and from automobiles to industrial users as a potential model for Alberta.

According to Environment Canada, Alberta was the country's heaviest greenhouse gas emitter in 2009, responsible for almost 34 per cent of the 690 megatonnes released into the atmosphere nationwide. Ontario, and its manufacturing economy was once the largest emitter, but Alberta leapfrogged it in recent years as petroleum production for export markets soared.

Road transportation, which includes everything from motorcycles to heavy duty diesel trucks, accounted for 19 per cent of nationwide emissions. That's still lower than what California tailpipes alone spit out.

Still, fossil fuel industries (coal, oil and gas) and transportation in Canada were the main culprits, making up the 17 per cent increase in emissions this country has experienced between 1990 and 2009.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said its members are working to reduce emissions and so is the province. But consumers too can help in the national effort.

"It's something our members are always working on," said Tom Huffaker, CAPP's vice-president of policy and environment. "We're very aware that we have a role to play in the process."

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"Alberta has been a leader, not a laggard," he said.

Ms. Redford acknowledged that Alberta needs to do more to cut its emissions.

"But we will do it in a way that still allows for economic growth," she said.

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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