Prentice says special breaks may be in store for Alberta tarsands

The Harper government says special breaks may be in store for Alberta’s tarsands.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Harper government says special breaks may be in store for Alberta’s tarsands.

Tarsands emissions may not drop as much as other industries as Canada moves to synchronize its environmental policies with its largest trading partner, the United States.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice says legislation moving through the U.S. Congress would grant special breaks to certain “trade-exposed” industries.

The bill — dubbed the Waxman-Markey bill after its authors, Democrats Henry Waxman and Edward Markey — is one of two pieces of major climate-change legislation before Congress.

It would, among other things, set a national cap on greenhouse gases and allow polluters to buy and sell allowances. This is known as a cap-and-trade system.

The Waxman-Markey bill would help some energy-intensive, trade-vulnerable industries adapt to new clean-energy rules and technologies by giving them special allowances to cover their higher costs.

Prentice told reporters in Copenhagen that it’s important that whatever industries fall into that “trade-sensitive” category in the States also do so in Canada.

He didn’t rule out the tarsands as an industry that could qualify for special breaks.

“A key feature of the Waxman-Markey legislation is the treatment accorded to what are referred to in the United States as trade-exposed industries,” Prentice said.

“And this is something that we will need to consider on the Canadian side of the border.”

Asked if that included the tarsands, Prentice replied: “I think any industry that is a trade-exposed industry in the same sense would be an industry that has to be considered in terms of its comparability to the U.S. framework.”

The government has been studying which sectors might get breaks, he added, but no decision has been made.

Prentice was responding to documents obtained by the CBC that apparently suggest Canada’s oil-and-gas industries wouldn’t need to cut their carbon emissions as deeply as first thought.

CBC is reporting that the draft documents were prepared for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks. The public broadcaster says the documents outline a “working draft position” of Canada’s stance on emissions targets.

The documents reportedly suggest that Canada revise its targets to be lower than what the Conservatives originally proposed.

CBC says the documents suggest the oil-and-gas industry would only have to reduce emissions by 15 megatonnes rather than the 48 megatonnes set out in its Turning the Corner climate-change plan.

The documents also reportedly say that means the oil-and-gas sector would only have to cut its emissions 10 per cent by 2020. The Harper government aims to lower Canada’s overall emissions 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020.

Prentice says he isn’t familiar with the draft documents. But he added they are not official policy.

“These documents do not represent the position of the government of Canada,” he said in French.

Environmental groups took the Conservatives to task over the reported content of the documents.

“We are deeply disturbed by the news,” said Steven Guilbeault of the Quebec environmental group Equiterre.

“We think it is unacceptable that one of the richest nations on the face of this planet is not going to do its fair share when it comes to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”

The backdrop to all this has been the Copenhagen climate talks.

Officials from 192 nations have descended on the Danish capital to seal a new global-warming deal.

It hasn’t been easy. Major rifts between the rich and developing world have been laid bare as the clock runs down to the summit’s end.

China and the U.S. — two of the world’s biggest polluters — remain at odds. So do rich and developing countries over issues such as financing and targets for emissions cuts.

High-level talks began Tuesday, officially wrapping up two years of work by negotiators. Ministers now have two days to push the talks forward before more than 100 world leaders arrive in Copenhagen for the summit’s final days.

But UN climate chief Yvo de Boer warned much work remains if a deal’s to be done in Copenhagen.

“We are at a very distinct and important moment in the process,” he said.

“We have over the past week or so seen significant progress in a number of areas, but we haven’t seen enough of it.

“There is still an enormous amount of work and ground to be covered if this conference is to deliver what people around the world expect it to deliver.”