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Minister vows not to let emissions rules hamper oil-sands investment

Conservative MP Peter Kent is sworn in as Environment Minister during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall on Jan. 4, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Citing the tentative economic recovery, new Environment Minister Peter Kent says the Harper government will not impose any greenhouse-gas reductions on the oil patch that discourage investment.

Canada, which has committed to roughly matching U.S. efforts on fighting climate change, is watching carefully as the Obama administration rolls out new emission rules for power plants and refineries.

Mr. Kent said Canada will draw up its own emission standards for petroleum refineries - including oil sands facilities - but added there's no schedule yet.

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"Our focus for the next several years is going to continue to be on maintaining the economic recovery and we will do nothing in the short term which would unnecessarily compromise or threaten to compromise that recovery," Mr. Kent said in an interview.

"It is not our intention to discourage development of one of our great natural resources. We know it can be developed responsibly."

The former journalist and broadcast anchor was promoted in cabinet this week to fill a vacancy left when Jim Prentice quit federal politics in late 2010.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency said over the holidays it will propose emission performance standards for new and existing fossil-fuel facilities this year, despite opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.

The proposed regulations - to take effect at the end of 2012 - would be in addition to EPA rules that took effect on Sunday that require all new plants or major expansions to get permits for emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases believed to cause climate change.

The Harper government maintains it wants a harmonized approaching to climate-change abatement measures that broadly matches what its largest trading partner is doing even if the regulatory measures are different. It's also eager to ensure facilities such as Canada's controversial oil sands producers don't face obstacles to selling their production in the United States.

Canada's overall goal as laid out by the Harper government is to cut national greenhouse gas emission levels 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Environmental activists have criticized the target as too little.

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The first specific emission-reduction regulations that Ottawa will announce will apply only to coal-fired power generators - a major source of greenhouse gases. These will take effect in 2015.

The Harper government is later planning to unveil emission reduction rules for other so-called large emitters - including refiners - with a goal of achieving the same broad goals as the United States.

These, Mr. Kent says, will be drawn up "with a sensitivity to maintaining a competitive situation."

The coal fired power plant regulations being planned by the Tories are not expected to have a big impact. They will apply only to new plants built after 2015 and old ones being refurbished. Emissions from coal plants have already been dropping largely due to the Ontario government's decision to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2014.

At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas are rising rapidly.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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