OTTAWA - The Harper government is closing in on a new agreement with the United States to improve air quality in North America, Environment Minister John Baird indicated Monday.
In an interview with CanWest News Service, Baird said that he and the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were eager to expand the existing Canada-U.S. air quality agreement, a treaty on pollution not greenhouse gases.
"I don't want to wait two or three years for a successful conclusion to these agreements, and I think he's on the same page, which is great," said Baird, who will meet with EPA administrator Stephen Johnson and other U.S. and Mexican officials over the next two days (June 26 to 27) for a conference in Morelia, Mexico.
He said the talks could also set the stage for a new North American trading scheme for companies to buy and sell credits of air pollutants.
Last week, Johnson recommended improving pollution standards in the U.S. by 11 to 17 per cent to tackle smog.
Baird said he also hopes to encourage more co-operation when it comes to improving the tools used to measure air quality.
"The more you measure the quality of air, the more pressure there is to improve it, and you can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges," he said. "That's something that's important."
Baird was also encouraged that Mexico, one of five emerging nations that participated in recent discussion at a conference of the world's eight largest economies, committed to take action on climate change.
Here at home, Baird said his government planned to stay the course with its own climate change policies and goals, despite a new law, adopted last week that requires it to tailor its plan to meet Canada's international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and submit annual reports on its progress.
"Parliament has passed a law, we'll obviously file the paperwork as required, (but) what we need to do is to focus on our action to reduce greenhouse gases," he said.
Although the government is required by the law to finalize regulations for large industries by the end of 2007, he wouldn't say whether he could meet that deadline.
Baird's plan calls for Canada to meet its Kyoto target in about 2020, even though the target is supposed to be met between 2008 and 2012. Baird has blamed the previous Liberal government's inaction for putting the Kyoto target out of reach, despite the fact that the Liberals ratified Kyoto and was on track to make changes that would meet the 2012 target.