Feds warn Sask. carbon plan not up to standard

The federal government said last week Saskatchewan’s climate change strategy likely doesn’t meet its standard, which could set the stage for a carbon pricing showdown.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna posted her response to the province’s Dec. 4 announcement on Facebook, saying she was encouraged by the commitment to adaptation and resilience to climate change.

She also praised the plan for taking a step toward carbon pricing.

However, it doesn’t contain a specific carbon price. Ottawa wants each province to have a carbon pricing system, beginning at $10 per tonne in 2018 and rising to $50 per tonne over five years. It has said it would impose a tax on any province that didn’t come up with its own plan.

Saskatchewan has steadfastly opposed a carbon tax, saying it would place the resource-based economy at a competitive disadvantage.

The strategy released last week is flexible, said provincial Environment Minister Dustin Duncan.

It lowers the threshold for heavy emitters from 50,000 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes and allows large emitters to buy offsets. Companies emitting between 10,000 and 25,000 tonnes can voluntarily opt in.

“The offset system is designed to recognize the agricultural community and other land management practices in our province that are already addressing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Companies taking action to curb emissions would receive best performance credits or could buy them from other facilities.

Another option would be for companies to pay into a provincial technology fund, as proposed in legislation passed in 2010 but never enacted.

Duncan said this flexibility will allow the economy to continue to operate while addressing climate change. The government will work with industry over the next year to develop performance standards.

However, the strategy might not go far enough for Ottawa.

“Based on what’s in today’s plan, Saskatchewan’s price likely wouldn’t hit our standard because it applies only to heavy industry instead of being economy-wide,” said McKenna.

“Of course, we hope that will change as Saskatchewan’s government turns its plan into action. We’ll be assessing each jurisdiction’s performance against our standard later this year.”

The provincial opposition NDP has said it would prefer a made-in-Saskatchewan approach over a carbon tax but is concerned that Ottawa has already dismissed the strategy and will impose its own carbon pricing system.

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