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COLUMN: Canadian companies that compete with US goods should take note of Biden's proposed initiatives

by Colin Isaacs
EcoLog, 11/27/2020 2:16:00 PM

Some commentators in the media have suggested that the change of administration in the United States (U.S.) may have a significant impact on government climate and environment policy and programs in Canada. While almost any economic and regulatory initiative in the U.S. has some impact on Canada, it seems unlikely that very many of the Joe Biden administration’s proposed environmental initiatives will be adopted here or will have a direct impact on businesses operating only in Canada. 

The economies and environmental regulatory systems of the two countries are different. There is no carbon tax or cap-and-trade in Biden’s plans. On the other hand, with the strong focus on buying American-made goods and American expertise, it is not at all clear where Canada and Canadian businesses might fit, or not fit, into president-elect Biden’s vision of a greener American economy. 

During the election campaign, Biden laid out what must be one of the most extensive environmental plans of any major party in any election campaign in the western hemisphere. The plans, contained in two documents — the 25-page “The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice”, and the 11-page “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future” — include more than 100 proposals, almost all of which have a primarily domestic focus and many of which are proposals to study or consult to seek solutions. 

Clearly, Canada could copy many aspects of the Biden plans, but some of their proposals are not a good fit for the Canadian structure of three or four levels of government, and others are not particularly relevant to Canada. 

Biden’s plans begin by listing key guiding principles. As with the more detailed descriptions of the planned initiatives, most of these are presented as constructive ideas rather than restrictive regulatory initiatives, perhaps reflecting the Biden approach to government.

Amalgamated from both documents, these guiding principles include: 

  • achieve a carbon pollutionfree power sector by 2035
  • ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and netzero emissions no later than 2050
  • pursue a historic investment in clean energy innovation
  • build a stronger, more resilient nation and a modern infrastructure
  • rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change
  • stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of colour and lowincome communities 
  • secure environmental justice and equitable economy opportunity
  • fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth
  • position the U.S. auto industry to win the 21st century with technology invented in America
  • make dramatic investments in energy efficiency in buildings, including completing 4 million retrofits and building 1.5 million new affordable homes
  • advance sustainable agriculture and conservation. 

A selection of the proposals that may have some impact on Canadian companies includes: 

  • rely on American union labour and Americanmade materials and products to build infrastructure
  • transform the energy sources that power the transportation sector, making it easier for mobility to be powered by electricity and clean fuels, including commuter trains, school and transit buses, ferries, and passenger vehicles
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by preserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light and mediumduty vehicles will be electrified along with annual improvements for heavy-duty vehicles
  • clean up and redevelop abandoned and underused brownfield properties, old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines, and other idle community assets that will be transformed into new economic hubs for communities all across America
  • use the power of federal procurement to increase demand for Americanmade, Americansourced clean vehicles
  • provide consumer rebates for swapping old, lessefficient vehicles for newer American vehicles built from materials and parts sourced in the U.S.
  • accelerate research on battery technology and support the development of domestic production capabilities
  • establish ambitious fuel economy standards that save consumers money and cut air pollution
  • develop innovative financing mechanisms that leverage private sector dollars to maximize investment in the clean energy revolution
  • leverage existing infrastructure and assets
  • repair the building code process with the goal of establishing building performance standards for existing buildings
  • advance nuclear reactors that are smaller, safer, and more efficient at half the construction cost of today’s reactors
  • use renewables to produce carbonfree hydrogen at a lower cost than hydrogen from shale gas
  • decarbonize the food and agriculture sector
  • help farmers leverage new technologies, techniques, and equipment to increase productivity and profit
  • require public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains
  • ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters and modify royalties to account for climate costs
  • pursue measures to incent the creation of new, sustainable fuels for aircraft, as well as changes to aircraft technology and standards, and air traffic management, to reduce emissions from air transportation
  • accelerate the development and deployment of carbon capture sequestration technology
  • review regulatory roadblocks to new innovations and invest in climatefriendly farming
  • support deployment of methane digesters to capture potent climate emissions and generate electricity
  • enact a national strategy to develop a lowcarbon manufacturing sector in every state, accelerating cuttingedge technologies and ensuring businesses and workers have access to new technologies and skills, with a major focus on helping small and large manufacturers upgrade their capabilities to have both competitive and lowcarbon futures
  • convene a climate world summit to directly engage the leaders of the major carbonemitting nations of the world to persuade them to join the U.S. in making a more ambitious national pledge
  • lead the world to lock in enforceable international agreements to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation
  • no longer separate trade policy from climate objectives
  • seek a G20 commitment to end all export finance subsidies of highcarbon projects
  • demand a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies
  • promote American clean energy exports and investments around the world to advance climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience
  • throughout the Americas, seek to develop a framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions related to land use, forests, and agriculture, to implement new common standards for the greening of manufacturing, mining, and tourism, and to encourage major investments in cleanenergy technologies. 

It remains to be seen how quickly these plans can be implemented, either with or without the support of Congress, or to what extent the buy-American goals affect partners, such as Canada, in this hemisphere. However, the plans certainly include enough initiatives that most Canadian companies that compete with U.S.-made goods either in Canada or in the U.S. might well be advised to take notice.

Colin Isaacs is a scientist and analyst with CIAL Group who focuses on sustainable development for business. He was selected by Environment Canada to be the principal author of the waste management chapter in the report The State of Canada’s Environment 1991. Colin can be reached at (416) 410-0432 (phone), (416) 362-5231 (fax), and colin@cialgroup.com (e-mail).

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