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Liberals lay down new rules to end use of coal, natural-gas power plants

Last Updated Feb 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm EDT

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is reflected in a TV screen as she speaks during a press conference on the government's environmental and regulatory reviews related to major projects, in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on February 8, 2018. New regulations to phase out the use coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in Canada will cost the country more than $2.2 billion, but potentially save the country billions more in reduced health care costs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – A federal task force will have the rest of the year to figure out how to help thousands of miners find new jobs as part of the Liberals’ latest move to speed up the demise of coal-fired electricity plants in this country.

Putting an end to coal-fired plants by 2030 is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16 million tonnes — about the annual emissions from four million cars — but also put between 3,000 and 3,500 miners out of work.

The largest share of job losses will be in Alberta, which has four coal mines, followed by Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

But the scope of the issue is likely to go beyond coal workers alone: Labour Minister Patty Hajdu was told last year that more than 42,000 people were directly or indirectly employed in the coal industry and “a significant portion” of them would be affected by the phase-out of thermal coal used to produce electricity.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who is in charge of the pollution regulations, on Friday promised to create a task force to help affected workers move into other areas of the economy and make the “transition a fair one for coal workers and communities.”

The nine-member task force is expected to begin work in March and will have nine months to deliver a final report, according to terms posted online.

The briefing material provided to Hajdu, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, included a written submission from the Canadian Labour Congress. In it, the labour group noted that governments often talk about helping workers displaced by economic changes that benefit society, but that talk “is rarely translated into practice.”

Still, CLC president Hassan Yussuff said Friday he’s optimistic the Liberals’ plan will allow Canada to meet its climate targets “while ensuring that workers and communities have a strong role in creating a green economy.”

The announcement of the federal task force — similar to one in Alberta — came on the same day the Liberals unveiled draft regulations to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired electricity plants by 2030 and set new emissions regulations for new natural gas-fired plants or coal plants converted to run on natural gas.

Federal officials expect more interest in natural gas and converted coal plants given the low price of natural gas and the ease with which plants can be expanded in smaller increments to better meet demand.

They estimate implementation of the draft coal regulations will cost more than $2.2 billion, but potentially save the country $4.9 billion in reduced health care costs.

Three-quarters of the $2.2-billion price tag would fall on the shoulders of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which aren’t expected to end their reliance on coal for power until at least 2040.

Coal-fired plants are responsible for almost three-quarters of emissions from the electricity sector, even though they only produce about 11 per cent of the nation’s electricity supply.

Environmental groups applauded the government’s regulations, but warned more needs to be done to limit the use of natural gas plants in the future.

Binnu Jeyakumar, a program director at the Pembina Institute, said the government’s carbon pricing scheme should apply to natural gas plants “to ensure that the market provides an even playing field for renewables, energy efficiency, and storage.”

Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, Dan Woynillowicz, said limiting natural gas in Canada’s electricity system would also “minimize the number of Canadian workers who will need to transition jobs in the future.”

The Canadian Electricity Association is warning the new regulations add another layer of red tape for the sector, something that is sure to affect rates across the country.