It’s hard to imagine a better choice for Canada’s environment portfolio than Peter Kent, appointed Tuesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the key change in a minor Cabinet shuffle.
If Mr. Kent has demonstrated a special talent in his junior foreign affairs portfolio, it’s an ability to hold his cool while the media try to turn some issue into a hot conflict — as is the case now over whether Canada will be forced to follow the United States on the road to economy-jolting carbon regulation.
As a former journalist and broadcaster, Mr. Kent has a knack for careful language and a reassuring voice, exactly what’s needed in the face of the ongoing media storm over climate change and carbon emissions. What the media want now from the Harper Conservatives is some kind of abject admission that Canada is just going to have to fall in line behind the extreme policy action taking shape at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act.
Cap-and-trade and carbon taxes won’t fly in America or Congress, so the EPA, with the support of the Obama administration, plans to take an end-run around Congress and voters by imposing greenhouse-gas regulations on its own. If the EPA does act, some media and environmental activists claim the Harper Conservatives will have painted themselves into a corner.
The Harper carbon-control policy has mostly been limited to saying Canada will match U.S. carbon regulation. So if the EPA starts issuing draconian carbon rules, then it follows that the new EPA policies must ipso facto become Harper draconian carbon policy. This dazzling bit of political logic comes from such activists as Matthew Bramley, climate policy director at the Pembina Institute, and Liberal environment critic Gerard Kennedy.
In media comments, Mr. Bramley said the new EPA initiative puts Canada on the spot. “It is really time for the government of Canada to demonstrate whether its stated policy of harmonizing with the U.S. was purely rhetorical in order to delay, or whether it was meant seriously.”
Pressure is said to be mounting on the Harper government to bring in carbon-emission regulation in 2011.
Mr. Kent should find it easy to resist and neutralize such pressure, especially since Mr. Bramley’s perspective is so far removed from political reality in the United States and Canada. The popular appetite for growth-killing carbon regulation or taxes is next to zero. There is, as well, not much chance that the EPA’s attempt to create its own carbon-emission regulations will survive the gruelling legal and political scrutiny taking shape in Washington and in individual states.
Marlo Lewis Jr., of the market-oriented Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, wrote the other day that “applying the [Clean Air Act] to greenhouse gases threatens to turn the Act into a de-industrialization mandate, a national economic suicide pact.”
Even discounting Mr. Lewis’s possible hyperbole, the EPA attack on carbon emissions strikes at the heart of the U.S. economy. It could also create havoc for Canadian industry if, for example, firms here are somehow required to meet EPA standards on products exported to the United States.
What you gonna do when the EPA comes after you?