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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The CSRHD board has diverging views on its relationship with Island Health. File photo
Comox-Strathcona board ponders relationship with Island Health

“We have to stand together … to get our share of the health budget.”

The CVCDA Accessibility Project is creating safer ramps at the Courtenay facility. Photo supplied
Accessibility project underway at Comox Valley Child Development Association

Over the past month, you may have noticed some construction underway behind… Continue reading

19 Wing Comox’s Wing Auxiliary Security Force (WASF) will be conducting training at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox and the Department of National Defence Seal Bay training area from April 12-16. Black Press file photo
19 Wing training set for April at Seal Bay, CFB Comox

Members of the public may see an increase in activity at locations in the Valley

The Union Bay Improvement District is holding its AGM April 29 as it looks to hand over services to the regional district. Record file photo
Union Bay board hikes water rates due to operating costs

Board also planning for AGM, transition to regional district service

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

Most Read