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Martin Laplante

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Fri, 21 Dec 2007

What Did John Baird Know and When Did He Know It?

I'm not on a witch hunt, I'm just curious. There was this curious juxtaposition of news stories a week ago:

Quebec was proposing to adopt California's tough new proposed GHG emission rules for cars. These standards force auto makers to reduce the average GHG emissions of the vehicles they sell by an average of 30 per cent over 10 years. Several US states, who through a quirk of law can not author emissions regulations but can me-too California's, were also waiting for California's law to come into effect so they can adopt it too. Together these states are half of the auto market. Quebec's twist on it is that it has a carbon tax that goes into a green fund and it would fine automakers that did not cooperate and put that money in the green fund. Quebec's auto manufacting sector no longer produces gasoline-powered cars, only electric ones.

Then from one day to the next Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, who was in Bali at the time, decides that having Quebec tie itself to the California regulations is a fine idea. Why the turnaround? Well a couple of days ago Washington announced that it was denying California permission to have these emissions standards for cars. Legally, California is allowed to enact auto emissions standards that are stronger than federal standards, but it needs a waiver from Washington. Over the years these waivers have been a formality. 50 waivers were requested, 50 waivers were granted, usually within a few weeks. In 2004 California asked for a waiver to regulate CO2 emissions; it already had the authority to regulate all other greenhouse gases and the courts said that CO2 was also fair game. Washington delayed and said they had to wait for other court cases that challenged the right to regulate CO2 emissions. California won all the court cases, including at the Supreme Court earlier this year. Legally it's pretty clear that Washington has no choice but to allow the California standards to be enacted. But this week it gave its decision: the waiver will not be granted.

Without being a political expert, its seems pretty clear that they had decided this a while ago, but didn't want to announce it until after the Bali conference. Bad PR. Better wait until everyone is off for Christmas. So the question is did Baird, while meeting with US administration officials in Bali, get wind of the fact that California standards were about to be killed and that therefore there was zero risk of Quebec actually being able to follow them? Just curious.

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