HALIFAX – The new Premier of Nova Scotia says the Lahey Report, which recommends Nova Scotia change its destructive clear-cutting practices in the forestry industry, will be implemented this year. Iain Rankin made this pledge during a recent interview with Huddle on the economy, climate change and the environment.
“There has been advancement on many recommendations in the report,” said Rankin. “There is a committee that has been struck… we will be accelerating that work and I made a commitment that the report will be implemented this year.”
The Liberal government has been criticized for not taking action sooner. The report came out in 2018, and the government agreed to the 45 recommendations. But advocates said back in 2020 that little changes have been made to forestry practices.
Rankin said he believes the forestry industry can still thrive without massive clearcutting.
“I think there’s an opportunity with more partial harvesting and looking at the forest a different way and embracing ecological forestry,” said the Premier.
Rankin has also made other pledges to make the economy greener. One of the more drastic is to phase out coal power by 2030. Currently, more than half of all the electricity produced in the province comes from coal-fired plants. The environmental costs also come with a financial one, as Nova Scotia has to import its coal from abroad.
“As we transition, we’ll make our air better to breathe, but also create job opportunities, when we’re developing homegrown renewable energy in the province, rather than exporting our funds to other countries to import coal,” said Rankin.
“We will spend funding here on those projects and that will create jobs.”
It sounds strange that a province with a long history of coal mining has to import its fuel source from other jurisdictions. But in 2020 it was announced that the Kameron Colleries Donkin mine, the last coal mine in the province was shutting down.
Rankin says its hard for coal mines to survive economically in Nova Scotia, due to stricter environmental standards.
“Over time we’ve put more strict standards on content of our coal, and the coal we have here is high-sulfur,” he said. “So, Nova Scotia Power has to abide by our sulfur caps in the province.”
“There are certainly still jobs at our coal-fire generation plants and we’ll make sure no worker’s left behind. There will need to be programs so workers have retraining opportunities as they wind down those plants.”
Rankin knows jobs will be lost when the coal plants are phased out, but he believes employees can be retrained for new opportunities.
But how will the province replace all the coal power into the grid? Rankin says when the Muskrat Falls hydro project comes online it will drastically increase renewable power in Nova Scotia. The Premier also has high hopes for the future of wind power. There’s also a lot of studies being done in the Bay of Fundy on tidal energy, but Rankin says the technology is too young to be relied on yet.
“A lot of it will change when Muskrat Falls comes on to play. That will bring our renewables up to 60 percent,” said Rankin.
“Tidal is 10 times more expensive than wind. Wind is the cheapest form of energy in the province. But we’ll continue to support research and development of that (tidal) opportunity for Nova Scotia. But it’s not part of how we can accelerate the transition away from coal.”
When asked how much money the province will have to spend in changing to a greener economy, Rankin responded that it will cost more money not to make the transition. He points to the federal pricing system which will tax CO2 emissions by $170 per tonne by 2030.
“That means that Nova Scotia cannot afford to continue to rely on coal for electricity. It becomes, not only an environmental liability but an economic liability to our province,” said Rankin.
“We’re at a point now where renewable energy is the lowest cost option. The job opportunities are positive. We need to take action on climate change, and now it’s becoming very clear that it’s in the best interests of our economy.”
The government recently announced $19-million in funding to help low-income families make a switch to a greener lifestyle. Half the funding will go to making their homes more energy-efficient, while the other half will go to rebates for cleaner vehicles, such as electric and hybrid cars.