Wynne v Obama: sustainable Ontario?

In sharp contrast to Obama’s State of the Union Address, the first Speech from the Throne under Premier Wynne gives little emphasis to environmental issues, including climate change. As we feared from the composition of the transition team, the Ontario Throne speech was modest in its energy and environmental priorities:

Ontario’s Throne Speech:

Energy Conservation

“[B]ecause conservation is the cheapest source of energy available, Ontario will continue to be a leader in smart-grid technology and energy conservation, and see the creation of new-economy jobs through the deployment of leading energy efficiency technologies in our homes and our businesses.”

Phasing-out of coal power

“[The government] will also continue its work to end coal-fired energy generation, the single largest climate change initiative currently underway in North America.”

Increased local autonomy in energy approvals

“[Municipalities] must have a voice in their future and a say in their integrated, regional development.

So that local populations are involved from the beginning if there is going to be a gas plant or a casino or a wind plant or a quarry in their hometown.

Because our economy can benefit from these things, but only if we have willing hosts.”

Part of this commitment is a promise to review earlier decisions:

“[The government] will work with all parties in the legislature to review the decisions to relocate energy infrastructure in this province.”

Improve transportation infrastructure

“Your government understands that infrastructure is the underpinning of our economy, and that if we continue to lag behind then we will never leap forward.

The new government is confident that the people of Ontario are willing to participate in a practical discussion of these costs if they can be guaranteed measurable results.

And those results will be found in the increase of our collective productivity, the reduction of our daily commute times and the reduced impact on our climate and natural environment.”

Obama State of the Union Address

These small steps are in marked contrast to President Obama’s State of the Union Address which recognizes that action on climate change is urgent and commits to serious action:

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”

Of course, President Obama’s ability to deliver his vision will be hampered by the US deficit, budget cuts and the poisonous standoff with Congress. Premier Wynne ‘s much more modest vision may be achievable despite Ontario’s debt and deficits. But how much will it do about the rapid march of climate change?

By Meredith James and Dianne Saxe