Opposition MLAs press for more details on Nova Scotia's plan for climate change, carbon pricing

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Wind turbines on the Tantramar Marsh between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick tower over the Trans-Canada Highway. The Nova Scotia government is expanding green energy as it works toward climate targets by 2030. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC - image credit)
Wind turbines on the Tantramar Marsh between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick tower over the Trans-Canada Highway. The Nova Scotia government is expanding green energy as it works toward climate targets by 2030. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia will publish a climate change plan and have a new deal with the federal government on carbon pricing by the end of year, but Environment Department officials offered few other details to MLAs during a legislature committee meeting Wednesday.

"Definitely our intention is to provide something that's very usable, has enough information in there so that it takes the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act one step further [to] understand what those goals are and the steps government plans to take to achieve those in the future," deputy minister Lora MacEachern said in an interview following the meeting.

MacEachern would not say if the climate change plan, intended to outline how the province will meet its 2030 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, would include cost estimates or timelines. Her department colleague, Jason Hollett, said the province is still negotiating with the federal government to determine if it will continue to price carbon using a cap and trade system, switch to a straight carbon tax or a hybrid of the two.

Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire has a problem with that.

Price of carbon to increase

The federal benchmark for carbon pricing is scheduled to go up by $15 a year each year until it reaches $170 per tonne in 2030. With that in mind, Maguire said the public needs to know whether to expect the next pricing model to dramatically increase the cost of gas and home heating fuel.

The cap and trade system the former Liberal government negotiated with Ottawa prevented the kind of spikes on gas and electricity prices caused by carbon pricing models in other provinces. While Nova Scotia's program caused gas prices to increase between one and 1.5 cents per litre, carbon pricing models in other provinces caused increases of closer to 10 cents per litre.

Part of the existing approach to pricing carbon was the creation of a green fund. Millions of dollars raised through the cap and trade system go into the fund and can only be used on projects intended to mitigate climate change, such as energy efficiency programs, while helping the province meet its 2030 targets.

More help for people in need

Regardless the next pricing model, Maguire said the green fund must remain in place. Without a commitment from the current government, Maguire said he worries future money raised could end up in general revenue.

"When that money was going into the green fund it was helping to reduce power bill costs and energy costs for Nova Scotians," he said in an interview.

"If that doesn't go there, then this is just another windfall for government and it's just another tax on the back of Nova Scotians."

New Democrat MLA Claudia Chender, who is poised to become her party's next leader later this month, agreed.

Chender said there also needs to be support for people already struggling with the high costs related to climate change and cost of living, which will increase as the price on carbon goes up each year.

"We need to know that government is going to mitigate the impact of those increases on the people who can't afford them," she said.

"Government absolutely has within its power and pocketbook the ability to do that."

Although she could not commit to how the green fund might look after this year — or if it would even exist — MacEachern said she and her colleagues are aware of the cost pressures people are facing.

"Our focus definitely is on the best interest of Nova Scotians and issues of affordability is top of mind as we go through all of our examinations."

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