Alberta must move in lockstep with U.S. on climate change, premier says

EDMONTON – Premier Jim Prentice warns Alberta could lose industrial plants “for generationsâ€� to the U.S. if pollution levies on carbon here are higher than south of the border.

While Alberta will deal “responsibly� with rising greenhouse gas emissions, Prentice said he’s working on a “five- to 25-year plan� and stressed the importance of taking a “careful� approach to new policy.

“These are not small decisions; these are people deciding to put a petrochemical plant on the U.S. side of the border with the consequence we don’t just lose a handful of jobs, we lose entire industrial facilities for generations,� Prentice told the Journal in a sit-down interview on Wednesday.

This week at the UN, 125 world leaders pledged to take action climate change, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying his country and China have “a special responsibility to lead� on carbon reduction as the world’s top emitters. He challenged other nations to join them.

Prentice said Alberta must work in lockstep with the U.S. in revising its 2008 plan, which will expire in December.

“We can still be leaders and approach it that way,� said Prentice. “We cannot impose charges and costs on the Canadian side of the border that the Americans are not prepared to impose. You get dislocation in capital and jobs and investment almost immediately.�

Alberta’s oilsands, with their growing carbon emissions, have come under fire at demonstrations in New York.

But Prentice said Alberta has not received credit for its innovative 2008 measures, including North America’a first carbon levy of $15 a tonne on excess emissions. The province will not meet its own greenhouse gas reductions under that plan.

In his first week, Prentice moved Steve MacDonald, deputy minister of cabinet, to take charge of climate change strategy in the environment department, which is run by rookie minister and Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett. MacDonald worked in 2006-08 on the current policy.

Prentice also said he will review the new technology fund run by the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp., which to date has handed out $234 million to 89 projects aimed at reducing carbon.

“I don’t think the original objectives of the carbon levy are being realized in the way it operates,� he added.

As federal environment minister in 2008-09, Prentice said he looked closely at many options to reduce carbon emissions, including cap-and-trade and a carbon tax.

But “good regulation� is the best route, he concluded.

“We have to excel,� he said. “We also need good regulation; there’s no good spinning people about the environment.�

While the energy industry has reduced GHG emissions per barrel, the amount of carbon emissions continues to rise because of increasing production — the fastest growing source in Canada.

Prentice also said one of his most difficult experiences as federal environment minister was the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks that collapsed without a binding agreement from countries to reduce GHG emissions.

“That was a searing experience and I came away with strong points of view,� he said.

Environmental advocates are pushing Prentice to move faster on the 50-year phase out of Alberta’s coal-fired power plants under federal policy.

Moving faster is “an open question,� said Prentice.

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