Canada Federal government accused of climate hypocrisy, taken to court over greenhouse gas exemptions
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OTTAWA — The Liberal government is being accused of undermining a climate treaty it took public credit for helping get passed by giving exemptions to some manufacturers who use a highly destructive greenhouse gas.
Soprema, a manufacturer headquartered in France, has filed a court case against the government over the exemptions. Honeywell, another international firm, has also been protesting the exemptions, arguing the government is effectively rewarding companies that haven’t put in the work to reduce emissions.
In particular, the companies are protesting an exemption handed to their competitor DuPont to continue producing and importing thermal insulation products that use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), described by environmental organizations as a “super greenhouse gas” with a global warming impact more than a thousand times worse than carbon dioxide.
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Both the federal government and DuPont argue the court case is without merit, and say the exemption permit was lawfully given out to allow DuPont more time to comply with the HFC regulation, which took effect Jan. 1. Other companies including Owens Corning were later given exemptions and are the subject of other court filings by Soprema.
The issue may be obscure to the general public, but it has been percolating for months as the companies protest to Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Honeywell asserts that the permits given out have the potential to add 1.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
“This exemption rewards the one company — again, DuPont — who seemingly chose to purposefully avoid making the necessary investments and preparations to meet its environmental stewardship responsibility,” Honeywell and Soprema said in a joint letter to Trudeau’s office in December. “It sets a dangerous precedent for industry participants that they may ignore their responsibility to comply with (the environment department’s) climate regulations.”
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The companies also point to the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a 2016 treaty to reduce HFC use that Canada helped draft and get passed.
“Canada played a leadership role internationally in proposing and contributing to the adoption of the Kigali Amendment to phase down HFCs,” says the federal government’s website on the Montreal Protocol. “Subsequently, Canada was among the first countries to ratify the Kigali Amendment and was active in encouraging others to do the same. Partly thanks to Canada’s efforts, by November 2017, a sufficient number of countries had ratified the Kigali Amendment to ensure its entry into force on January 1st, 2019.”
Canada enacted a regulation to ban HFCs in certain products as of Jan. 1, 2021, requiring companies to find climate-friendly alternatives. In court documents, Soprema says it was ready to comply, but then it was “informed of a rumour” in August 2020 that exemptions were being handed out. It eventually confirmed DuPont products were getting a two-year “essential purpose” permit that exempted them from the ban.
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“By allowing the Competitor to continue using HFCs, the Minister has rendered a decision which has unreasonable and deplorable consequences,” Soprema says in its March 15 Federal Court filing, translated from French.
Soprema argues the exemption “violates Canada’s international obligations under the Protocol,” “thwarts the deployment of environmentally and health-friendly alternatives,” and “disadvantages and undermines companies that have invested the necessary efforts and funds to comply with the Regulations and enable Canada to respect its international commitments.”
Soprema also argues the government didn’t meet its own criteria in handing out the “essential purpose” permits, making them illegal. It says companies had three years to prepare for the regulation, and Soprema’s own efforts show it “did not involve any major technological revolution or investments of a magnitude that could jeopardize the survival of enterprises.”
The filing asks the Federal Court to declare the permits illegal and order them cancelled. The filing also seeks a wide range of documents to shed light on how the decision was made.
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Environment and Climate Change Canada, the federal department, said the government is still meeting its obligations for reducing HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, and said the Jan. 1 regulation actually exceeds those obligations.
“The objective of the essential purpose permit provision is to provide flexibility in recognition of the challenges that some companies in a specific sector may face in developing and producing compliant products,” a department spokesperson said in an email. “ECCC expects applicants to demonstrate that efforts are being made to find an alternative including mitigation measures to reduce the environmental impact if possible.”
DuPont told the National Post it will fight the Soprema application in court.
“DuPont holds a permit that was issued in accordance with federal legislation, which expressly provides for the issuance of such permits,” the company said in a statement. “Permits have also been provided to other market participants. DuPont intends to vigorously oppose Soprema’s application in Federal Court, which is without merit.”
DuPont said it has a program to phase out HFCs, and the permits provide them with the time for research, securing their supply chain, and for transitioning their manufacturing sites.
Laura Reinhard, a Honeywell vice president and general manager, said Honeywell has been working on phasing out HFCs for many years now, and was caught by surprise when the exemptions were issued because manufacturers had been given plenty of time to get in compliance.
She said this regulation should have been a good news story for Canada, but now that’s been flipped.
“Canada did a really tremendous job, in my view, getting out there in front and setting regulations that were really going to help with this crisis we have on climate change,” Reinhard said. “This exemption that they gave to one very large customer, and then it morphed into three or four players, it really undermined a lot of the work that (Canada) did. And now it’s set the industry back and on pause.”
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Conrad Black: The climate of fear that gave way to unjustifiable environmental policies .
Upon being re-elected prime minister in 2019, albeit with a minority of MPs and fewer votes than his chief opponent, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it was time to tackle “our greatest problem: climate change.” It is routinely and endlessly bandied about by most of our politicians and practically all of our media that climate change is, in the second-most tedious and toe-curling platitude in the current political lexicon (after “systemic racism”), “an existential threat” — i.e., our existence as human beings is threatened by climate change.