Canada's Environment Minister McKenna talks U.S. climate deal, future of oil and gas infrastructure projects

Last week, the United States and Canada announced a climate change agreement that included a commitment by both countries to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources. During today's OnPoint, Catherine McKenna, Canada's minister of environment and climate change, discusses the deal and the road ahead for both countries in meeting their Paris pledges. She also talks about the challenges associated with meeting demands for energy infrastructure projects while upholding environmental commitments.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Catherine McKenna, Canada's minister of environment and climate change. Minister McKenna, thank you for joining me.

Catherine McKenna: Delighted to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Minister McKenna, the U.S. and Canada have announced what is being referred to as a historic agreement on climate, and in particular, on the regulation of methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources. How does this plan fit into Canada's broader push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly under the Trudeau administration?

Catherine McKenna: Well, it was really great. We've been working really closely with the United States since we got into government. I was in Paris with the whole U.S. climate team, working closely with Todd Stern. Now we're working on a climate change plan back home. We have to do that. We're working with the provinces and territories and looking at how do we reduce emissions from all sources. So certainly methane is a big part of it. I think a lot of people -- you know, your audience, I'm sure, knows, but a lot of people might not know just how significant a source of emissions it is, so really great to have an ambitious agreement on this, and it's really going to help us as we look at what are all the different sources that we need to be reducing emissions from.

Monica Trauzzi: What is the timeline for implementation of the methane rule in Canada?

Catherine McKenna: Well, so we are committed to moving as fast as we can. We have to go through a consultation process, but I don't think it'll be a problem. We've had really good feedback. Actually, Alberta took the lead on this. They aligned their standards with the U.S. before, and so there's been really good interest, and so we expect 2017 they'll be in place.

Monica Trauzzi: So here in the U.S., EPA will begin the formal rulemaking process for the methane rule next month. That leaves an incredibly tight timeline for them to try to make this all work before President Obama leaves office, and it quite honestly makes it highly unlikely that the rule will be finalized before he leaves. How committed do you believe the United States is to the plan, and are you concerned that if a Republican administration comes into power next, that we could see the plan derail?

Catherine McKenna: Well, I know that this administration is 100 percent committed to taking all actions. So they're all in. I can't sort of prejudge, you know, whether it can get through, you know, within the timelines for this administration, but certainly I know they're working hard on a whole bunch of fronts. You know, I was meeting with some environmental NGOs, U.S. environmental NGOs today. We were talking about this and talking about what it would mean with a different administration, but I think these are all -- we're making moves forward, and I think that methane is the most efficient -- one of the most efficient ways to reduce emissions, and I think, you know, generally it's been well-received, I think. So I'm very hopeful. We certainly want to see joint regulatory action. It makes it better from a competitiveness perspective, and I think it helps both of us. So always hopeful.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the broader climate plan that you're working on back at home, and that would bring all the provinces under one umbrella on emissions regulation. Why is that needed, given the work that's been done in the process?

Catherine McKenna: Well, so it wouldn't necessarily bring them under, you know, the one plan. I mean, we're looking at our total emissions reduction, so clearly every province has to do their part, and many provinces have been working really hard and we have different carbon pricing schemes, but what we need to do is do more. This is -- the federal government has not really been at the table for the past decade, so we are back. There are things that we can do within our power, and we also want to help the provinces move forward in a lot of areas that, you know, they're also interested in moving forward on, whether it's electric vehicles, we need to reduce emissions from buildings. There's a whole bunch of different areas, and we're going to be working hard. Carbon pricing is also part of it. We have 80 percent of Canadians will be living in a jurisdiction with a price on carbon, so we're now looking at how do we expand that, how do we ensure that the price, you know, is getting -- ratcheting up so that it has a real impact on behavior? But once again, very optimistic and we are working really hard, and we had a historic agreement actually between the provinces and the federal government last week in Vancouver, and all the provinces are committed to meeting our international obligations and working together to be ambitious, so we're going all out.

Monica Trauzzi: Here in the United States, the future of the Clean Power Plan remains uncertain, as I'm sure you're familiar. And it's a major element of the U.S.'s ability to meet its Paris pledge. Do you question whether the U.S. will, in fact, be able to make good on its Paris commitments?

Catherine McKenna: You know what, I've had a number of discussions with U.S. administration, and I think that, I mean, there's different ways to look at, you know, the decision. It doesn't -- the EPA does have the power to regulate. It's just, you know, this particular case. They've also looked at the other measures they have in place. So I'm confident the U.S. is going to be able to meet its obligations. It's going to work really hard to do so. I also really like the leadership role that the U.S. is playing internationally. We've seen, you know, really pushing when it comes to HFCs in the Montreal protocol, and we're going to be working with them on that. IKO, you know, there's other areas where we need to show leadership. Also, clearly the Paris agreement. Now we've got to move to relay the implementation phase, and so signing quickly and also making sure that we're supporting developing countries.

Monica Trauzzi: If the Clean Power Plan were to be struck down by the courts, is Canada then less likely to move forward with its own comprehensive plan?

Catherine McKenna: No, we're moving forward. In six months, we have to have our own plan in place. That's a commitment the prime minister has made with the provinces and territories, and so I'm going to be working really hard over the next six months. It's something that's really critical to our government. It's one of the top priorities and so, you know, we want to be doing this with the U.S. We want to be aligning standards with the U.S. We want to be working together, but we're still going forward.

Monica Trauzzi: How has the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline affected the relationship between the two countries?

Catherine McKenna: You know, it happened very early in our administration, and I think it was done in a respectful way. We are a resource-based economy, not solely resource-based, but it plays a large part of our economy, so we are in a transition phase, and natural resources are going to be a significant part of our economy in the near future but, you know what, that's just, you know, one of thing that was maybe a little bit difficult, but I think we have an amazing relationship when we saw this here and so, you know, we've moved on and, you know, we are looking at how do we develop our resources in the most sustainable way possible, and also how do we move towards a lower-carbon future. So that's what we're doing, and I think that we saw this week very good discussion with the U.S. about how we can do it together.

Monica Trauzzi: What role do you think oil and gas should play as part of Canada's energy portfolio?

Catherine McKenna: Well as I said, we -- you can't change overnight, and I know that you've seen really significant climate change plans from different governments that -- B.C. has LNG. We see Alberta came up with this climate change plan last year, very well-received, and I think everyone knows that we need to be moving to, you know, lower emissions, a lower-carbon future, and so, you know, I think that we're seeing really good movement in that direction, but as I said, it's not going to happen overnight, and we are -- I mean, we're working at facilitating investment in clean tech. We're part of Mission Innovation with the U.S., which is great, doubling our investment in green tech. And you saw Bill Gates was taking the lead and pushing government to do so, so you know, that's part of our strategy, moving to cleaner energy sources, moving to renewables. And also, when we develop, you know, oil and gas, we need to be doing it in the most sustainable way.

Monica Trauzzi: The Sierra Club and Canada's Environmental Defence have suggested there be a climate test for all energy infrastructure projects that happen between the U.S. and Canada. Is that an effective and reasonable approach to making energy infrastructure decisions?

Catherine McKenna: Well, I think you do need to look at, you know, the emissions profile of, you know, different projects. So in Canada, we just announced the -- I'm also responsible for environmental assessments, so we announced that we would be looking at upstream GHG emissions in addition to direct GHG emissions. So yes, I mean, I think if we're talking about moving to a lower-carbon future, I think we actually have to know, you know, what projects -- you know, what the profile is, the emissions profile. So I think that's one -- you know, one measure that you should be considering.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you so much for your time and for coming on the show.

Catherine McKenna: Thanks very much.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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