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Canada Shows ‘No Backbone’ with Three-Year Delay in Methane Regs

Catherine McKenna/Facebook

The Trudeau government showed a “total” lack of leadership when it delayed implementation of Canada’s methane gas regulations from 2020 to 2023 in the face of persistent pressure from fossil lobbyists, Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence told the Toronto Star late last week.

“This is really discouraging, because this is the easy stuff,” said Marshall, ED’s Ottawa-based national program manager. “It’s the only thing that’s targeting the oil and gas industry, and they’re backing off on it.”

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ED Executive Director Tim Gray said [2] the delay would add 55 million tonnes of new emissions to the country’s methane output. “It’s going to be difficult for Canada to meet its emissions targets,” he told CBC. “I think everyone will admit that.”

Marshall said the decision, announced Thursday by Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna, showed “no backbone”, after the government committed to reducing emissions 40 to 45% by 2025. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made that promise last March during a White House visit [3] with then-U.S. president Barack Obama.

“About time, eh?” Obama wisecracked [4] at the time, referring to the first DC visit of such magnitude by a Canadian head of government in almost 20 years.

But that sense of urgency wasn’t as obvious Thursday, when McKenna talked to reporters on a conference call from a clean technology and trade event in San Francisco. “There is a regulatory process. We need to listen to industry,” she said. “Our goal is to take serious action on climate change to reduce emissions. But we need to be doing it in a smart way where we make sure that we are understanding the perspective of industry and understanding the science.”

McKenna press secretary Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers said the delay would give fossils more time to prepare for the new regulations, without delaying the 2025 target. “The changes in start date are an example of government listening to stakeholders, and responding in changes to the draft regulation,” she said. That draft is expected to be made public in the next month.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told Canadian Press Friday that Canada “needs to be cognizant of regulations in the U.S.,” the Star reports, “suggesting the methane delay is at least partly due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s move away from Obama-era climate policies.” But Marshall noted that many U.S. states already have methane regulations that are more robust than Canada’s. In the U.S., the Environmental Defense Fund (no relation to Canada’s Environmental Defence), the Wilderness Society [5], and others have been building the argument that methane regulations generate major cost savings for fossil companies, while controlling a fast-acting greenhouse gas that accounts for about 25% of global warming.

“We’re playing catchup,” Marshall told the Star. “We shouldn’t be stalling to match the no-action of the Trump administration.”

The fossil lobby, led by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), had spent months fighting to delay the regulation, claiming the new requirements were coming on too fast and would be costly to implement, the National Observer reports [6].

“We had responded with what we thought would be an alternative approach to meeting that target,” said CAPP’s director of climate and innovation, Vicki Ballance. “Having to do large retrofit schedules and new installations and all of those things are going to have costs for industry.”

Ballance added that fossils will voluntarily reduce their methane emissions before the new regulations go into effect. “I think we understood and agree with the reduction target. It was more about how do we get there,” she told CBC. “The process that we are going through has yielded some opportunity for us to manage those competitiveness concerns.”

Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart writes [7] that the methane regulations are “the first real test of the government’s commitment to implement the Pan-Canadian Climate Framework”, citing two factors that call CAPP’s competitiveness concerns into question: A “difficult and lengthy process” will be needed for the Trump administration to unwind Obama-era methane recommendations, and the outcome of that process is by no means certain. And state-level regulations in the U.S. already cover 25% more oil and gas production than the Canadian rule would address.

Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations is one of the biggest and most cost-effective greenhouse gas emissions reductions available to us, so Canada needs to catch up with what U.S. states are already doing, not dither and delay,” he states.