Atlantic provinces ask federal government to delay implementation of clean fuel standard

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The four Atlantic provinces have asked Canada’s federal government to delay implementation of its clean fuel standard for as much two years, citing the “disproportionately negative economic impact” it will have on Atlantic Canadians.

Environmental advocates say the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Global News, sets the tone of the provinces being resistant to taking action against climate change.

“Regulatory action is some of the most important steps that we can take in combating climate change,” said Kelsey Lane with the Ecology Action Centre on Tuesday.

What’s the CFS?

The clean fuel standard or CFS is meant to help Canada meet its target of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by bringing significant economic consequences for many industries, including the oil sector.

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It will require fuel companies to reduce the carbon intensity of their products. That would mean cutting down the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced when fuels like gasoline, diesel or propane are burned.

The CFS is one the single biggest emissions-cutting schemes in Canada’s plan to fight climate change, aiming to cut 30 million tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

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Despite being announced in 2016, the implementation of the CFS has been repeatedly delayed.

Federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson was supposed to have published the regulations governing liquid fuels in spring 2019 but has pushed the time table back, including most recently because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the regulations are set to be revealed later this winter before being finalized in 2021 and then finally kicking in by 2022.

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But the letter sent to federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson asks that the federal government delay that implementation even further — to 2023 or 2024.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the federal minister of intergovernmental affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, and natural resources minister Seamus O’Regan.

The letter is dated Nov. 30 and is signed by the energy ministers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

‘Negative economic impact on Atlantic Canadians’

It argues that the region has different demographic, economic and supply constraints when compared to the rest of Canada, especially as Atlantic Canada attempts to recover from COVID-19.

“In its present form, the CFS is a national standard that is expected to have a disproportionately negative economic impact on Atlantic Canadians,” the letter reads, pointing to the region’s reliance on heating oil.

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“The proposed CFS will increase energy costs for residents and businesses and will have a significant impact on industry in the region.”

The letter lays out three requests, with one of the key ones being that the federal government work with the Atlantic provinces in extending the period before the regulations come into effect.

Lane says the CFS has already been weakened from its initial promises as a result of similar requests to the ones made in the letter. She pointed to the announcement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made last week that cut the program from covering gas, liquid, and solid fuels to just liquids.

“So already there’s been a lot of concessions made in this, but at the same time, it’s one of the most important environmental policies we’re going to see in our generation,” Lane said.

This is another example of where the federal government really does need to step up, step up and the provinces need to come to the table and comply.”

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Another one of the letter’s requests is to conduct and share a cost-benefit analysis with the provincial and territorial governments ahead of the regulations being revealed.

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Lane, after reviewing the letter, says the request puts the cart before the horse.

It’s standard procedure for the federal government to conduct a cost-benefit analysis so the provinces were already going to get that information.

Lane questions how the Atlantic provinces can argue that the program will disproportionately affect the region if they haven’t received a cost-benefit analysis.

“If you’re expecting the analysis, then that’s great, but don’t make those assumptions before you see it,” Lane said.

In Lane’s opinion, she agrees that the province’s second request — to conduct an analysis looking at equity and diversity —  is actually a good idea.

But she also told Global News that it’s something the federal government would already be looking at.

When asked for comment, the provincial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia provided nearly identical statements to Global News.

Both provinces said they are committed to continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

“We want to continue to be a leader in the fight against climate change and meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets, in a way that works best for Nova Scotians,” wrote Barbara MacLean, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s environment department, in a statement.

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“We are concerned that the proposed Clean Fuel Standard will increase the cost of fuels in Nova Scotia without reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

New Brunswick struck a similar tone.

“(New Brunswick) supports efforts to reduce emissions but at the same time recognize the Atlantic region is unique, in that we have a higher dependency on heating oil, more than any other jurisdictions in Canada,” said Nick Brown, a spokesperson for the natural resources department.

The governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island did not provide a response by publication.

‘We should be leaders’

For advocates like Lane, she sees the CFS as a benefit even if it brings costs.

“This is an example where we’re seeing the regulation and you need the carrots, but you also need the sticks to maximize our potential for climate action.,” Lane said.

“We can’t just expect carrots all the time. At some point, we’re going to really need to regulate emissions.”

An official with the federal government speaking on background confirmed to Global News that Wilkinson received the letter but gave no indication the government was considering delaying implementation of the CFS.

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A delay was not mentioned in Trudeau’s announcement made last week.

Lane says Atlantic Canada should look to seize the moment as Canada works to restart its economy after the pandemic.

“It‘s strange to think that (climate change and COVID-19 recovery are) seen as separate because really climate action is so integral to our recovery and the delay will only put us further behind and in a worse position in the long run to the effects of climate change,” she said.

We are extremely susceptible to the trends of climate change. So in my mind, we should be leaders.”

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