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U.S. vote a likely setback to cap-and-trade

The Globe and Mail
Richard Blackwell

The election of a more conservative House of Representatives in the United States will likely slow climate change legislation in that country, a setback that worries environmental activists in Canada.

“The arrival of a greater number of Republicans in the Congress will certainly not hasten the completion of a climate change bill,” Pierre Sadik, manager of government affairs for the David Suzuki Foundation, said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t bode well for cap-and-trade legislation passing through what was already a difficult environment in the U.S.”

More Republicans in the House could mean backtracking on a climate change bill that passed the chamber last year and is now before the Senate. That would push back the clock, Mr. Sadik said.

Canada is bound to be affected by the political shift in the United States, he said, because Canada is in a “wait-and-see mode” on climate change. Ottawa has said it does not want to move ahead unilaterally on cap-and-trade rules (under which greenhouse gas emitters may buy and sell emissions credit), and will work in tandem with the United States.

If it becomes clear that the U.S. is paralyzed on this issue, or even moving backward, Canada may be forced to move ahead on its own, he said. The pressure will increase as European countries and new economies such as China, India and Brazil gain momentum on climate change policies, he added.

“If it becomes apparent that meaningful action on climate change is going to be really bogged down for a long time in the U.S., that might create additional pressure on the federal government in Canada to get going,” Mr. Sadik said. “We can’t wait indefinitely because the government has very clearly committed itself to meeting [specific] targets by 2020.”

Lisa DeMarco, a lawyer at Macleod Dixon in Toronto who specializes in emissions trading law, expects that “we are less likely to see co-ordinated action [on climate change] if there is a major Republican shift in the House or in the Senate.”

She finds it ironic that many Republicans have “demonized” the idea of a cap-and-trade program even though it makes use of the market forces they hold dear. Some U.S. politicians have tried to harness the suspicion about markets that arose after the economic and real estate meltdown, she said. “It is a lot of fear-based politics.”

But many Republicans have business constituents who want to see some certainty in environmental rules, she added, and they could pressure legislators to get something in place soon. “Even if the cap-and-trade regime is not perfect in their eyes, the certainty is better than the impact on the investment climate of having no idea what is going to happen.”

Ms. DeMarco said a co-ordinated, continent-wide approach is needed to eliminate market distortions that can occur in energy pricing if there is a patchwork of regulation in various states and provinces.

Eva Ligeti, executive director of the Toronto-based Clean Air Partnership, said the election of more conservative politicians in the United States is not necessarily a setback. “Some very conservative thinkers … recognize the connection between the ability to have long-term sustainable business and a stable climate,” she said. “Just because you have a conservative House … that [doesn’t mean] the climate change file is necessarily diminished.”

She noted that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney “got it” when it came to green issues.

Former U.S. secretary of transportation James Burnley said the move to cap-and-trade legislation would not be slowed with more Republicans in the House, because the Obama administration had made no progress on that front anyway. “It was already dead in the water.” There is a remote chance some renewable energy laws might get passed, he said, if a consensus bill can be created.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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