Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

The day after Americans go to the polls to choose their next president, the United States will become the first and only country in the world to withdraw from the Paris climate change pact.

Whether that withdrawal becomes permanent will depend on who wins that election — Donald Trump, who is behind the withdrawal, or Joe Biden, who has promised to put the U.S. back into the agreement as soon as possible.

For Canada, having the U.S. back in the Paris pact, and the resulting domestic U.S. policies on the environment that will follow, could both open markets for Canadian clean energy technology, and level the playing field for Canadian companies competing against Americans with fewer environmental regulations and taxes.

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place, with state governments going it on their own, renewable energy prices becoming more attractive, and global investors increasingly viewing carbon footprints as a critical element in their investment decisions.

“It all depends on what the policies are that you put in place,” said Gary Mar, president of the Canada West Foundation.

“Canadian companies are already paying carbon taxes. And so if their competition in the United States was compelled to do the same thing then it would make it a more level playing field for Canadians to enter into the marketplace.”

In the last four years, Canada has in some places slowed or amended its own environment policies to reflect concerns American companies not regulated in the same way might hurt Canada’s competitiveness.

That includes methane regulations — which Canada delayed by three years when Trump paused similar targets in the U.S. — and limiting the carbon pricing on industries that face heavy competition from U.S. firms that don’t pay the same kind of tax.

If Trump stays in office, Canada will continue to measure its environmental regulations against competition in the U.S. facing less regulation. If Biden wins, he hasn’t just promised to rejoin Paris, he has pledged to use the power of the United States to influence, or even name and shame, countries that aren’t doing their part to slow climate change.

Gerald Butts, vice-chairman at the political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group and former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Biden’s climate policies are the most aggressive any American presidential candidate has ever proposed.

That includes eliminating fossil fuels from the U.S. power grid by 2050, and using the power of the federal procurement system to spur growth in electric vehicles.

Butts said Biden’s plan would not only put pressure on the world, including Canada, to up its climate game, it opens a “big opportunity to grow the Canadian clean energy and clean-tech footprint in the United States.”

“It tilts the scales toward renewable energy and decarbonization in the United States in a way that no potential president has ever attempted to put his or her thumb on the scale,” said Butts.

“We’ve got a lot of hydro power, we’ve got a lot of nuclear power, we’ve got a lot of low- to zero-emissions electricity here. And that’s a real opportunity.”

Canadian mining could also benefit. Canada produces 14 of the 19 metals and minerals needed for solar panels and Quebec is home to one of the 10 biggest lithium mines in the world.

Butts said a Biden presidency might have negative effects Canada’s fossil-fuel sector. Biden has promised to halt the Keystone XL pipeline between Alberta and Nebraska, for instance.

That project, which was killed by Barack Obama when Biden was his vice-president, was revived by Trump and is supported by the Trudeau Liberals. Lack of pipeline space to ship more oil has left Canadian producers to accept significant discounts for their product, and limited growth.

Earlier this year, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney threw his province’s fiscal weight behind Keystone, with a $1.5-billion equity investment and a $6-billion loan guarantee.

Even under Trump, the pipeline has hit snags in the courts over its environmental impact, and construction on the U.S. portion has been halted.

Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center political think tank in Washington, D.C., said the pipeline has taken on an outsized role in the U.S. climate fight, as it was something environment groups could seize on.

But he said it’s possible that if Biden starts moving aggressively on other climate fronts, the pipeline may fall in importance.

Mar says that Biden may ultimately see the pipeline as a good thing for a transition period. The U.S. has sanctions against Venezuela, including oil imports, and he said it is cheaper for the U.S. to get oil from Canada through a pipeline than it is to seek other sources in the Middle East.

Sands is also careful to point out that Trump’s anti-climate rhetoric may be overshadowed by the economic opportunities of clean energy that a pro-development president cannot resist.

And even when and where he doesn’t, state governments and the private sector are moving on climate policies without him, said Mar.

“They might happen more quickly with the Biden administration, but I think again, because of the importance of states, even under Trump, I think that trend line will still continue,” Mar said.

Trump halted regulations to insist automakers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, but a number of states and several automakers are sticking to the plan without him.

Trump has also done everything he can to “bring back king coal”, rolling back environmental regulations that made coal less palatable.

But cheaper natural gas and renewable sources of energy are crowding coal out of the market, and since Trump took office coal production has fallen almost 20 per cent, and coal’s share of the U.S. power grid fell from about one-third to less than one-quarter.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenU.S. election

Just Posted

Carey Newman resigned from the Greater Victoria School District’s Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee May 13, citing ‘a pattern of systemic racism.’ (Black Press Media file photo)
‘Pattern of systemic racism’: SD61 Indigenous committee member resigns, calls for change

More than 350 people had added their names in support by midday Friday

Comedy balloon artist Mike Dada of Sidney hands two-year-old Mila Yiau a balloon flower as she holds the hand of her mother Hannah Liao at Sunday’s street market in Sidney. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney Street Market parks in temporary location for 2021

Market open Sundays at Mary Winspear parking through Oct. 10

Commonwealth Place recreation centre was shut down before 8 a.m. on Friday following a power outage. (Saanich Parks, Recreation and Community Services/Twitter)
Saanich Commonwealth Place closed due to power outage, outdoor classes still running

Indoor classes, programs at pool and weight room halted

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)
School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

Royal Bay Secondary School students paint the crosswalk in front of their school in support of LGBTQ and marginalized members of the community (Royal Bay Secondary School photo)
Senior student leaves mark at Royal Bay Secondary School for LGBTQ+ students

Crosswalk at Colwood school painted in support of marginalized community members

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 11

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Superintendent Aaron Paradis, community services officer with the Surrey RCMP, during a media availability about a recent drug bust in Port Coquitlam. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Police seize 13 million ‘potentially fatal doses’ of pure fentanyl at B.C. drug lab

The evidence was seized at large, illicit drug manufacturing site in Port Coquitlam

Most Read