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Memo contradicts Harper’s stance on emission limits

Stephen Harper

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The United States has implemented limits on emissions from the oil and gas sector that are "significant" and "comparable" to those the Conservative government is considering, says a newly released Environment Canada memo, one that contradicts Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assertion that Canada is waiting for the U.S. regulations before it will act.

Mr. Harper has said Canada will proceed with long-promised regulations to rein in the sector's burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions only "in concert with" the United States.

The briefing memo for Canada's Environment Minister, however, says the United States has effectively gone ahead with "significant" regulations that are "comparable to the reductions that would result from the approach being developed for this sector in Canada." The June, 2013, memo was obtained by Greenpeace under the Access to Information Act and shared with The Globe and Mail.

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The memo was produced after President Barack Obama released his Climate Action Plan that day.

In a statement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the memo is an apparent reference to 2012 oil and gas regulations that reduced emissions of certain pollutants, such as smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Canada's environmental record is under the microscope as pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, which would transport oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, await decisions on approvals.

Alberta, meanwhile, is nearing a decision on extending or "reinvigorating" its own carbon levy on major polluters, Premier Dave Hancock told The Globe, adding that it would need to "work collaboratively" with what Ottawa introduces. He said that in a recent meeting, Mr. Harper assured him the federal plan would be "synergistic with what we would do."

But a federal move to rein in emissions does not appear imminent. A spokesman for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq declined to answer questions about the memo directly. "Our government is committed to protecting the environment while keeping the Canadian economy strong," spokesman Ted Laking said in a statement.

Greenpeace campaigner Keith Stewart said Canada has no reason to wait.

"Stephen Harper was misleading the Canadian public when he said Canada has to wait for the Americans. His own officials are telling him the Americans have already taken action similar to what his government was doing," Mr. Stewart said.

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Mr. Stewart cited figures demonstrating both the U.S. regulations, and the most recent ones being considered in Canada, would mean a reduction of about 5 per cent in oil and gas emissions in each country, although he noted the figures are difficult to compare directly. Emissions from Canada's oil and gas sector are projected to surge by 23 per cent by 2020, the year Canada has committed to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Copenhagen accord. It's on track to fall well short of the targets.

Mr. Harper told Global News in December that oil and gas regulations "would be best done if we could do this in concert with our major trading partner ... so that's what I'm hoping we'll be able to do over the next couple of years." Ms. Aglukkaq has regularly declined to update the House on any regulations, saying earlier this year the government is working with the provinces and territories on reducing emissions, but it would be premature to offer details.

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