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OTTAWA, Ont. — The federal government will mirror U.S. benchmarks and invest $120.2 million over five years to accelerate action on clean air.

The action plan, which was officially unveiled by Environment Minister David Anderson, focuses on a regulatory road map for cleaner vehicles and fuels. As well, initial measures to reduce smog causing emissions from industrial sectors, improvements to the cross country network of pollutant monitoring stations and expansion of the public reporting by industry on pollutant releases have also been included.

“Last spring I launched the Clean Air strategy and today I’m delivering on our promises,” says Anderson. “That strategy included steps to reduce transboundary pollution, to ensure cleaner transportation, … we’re delivering a regulatory plan for cleaner vehicles and fuels.”

Anerdson promises that all new vehicles built and sold in Canada will be under tougher emissions standards starting in 2004, while gasoline sulphur levels will be dramatically slashed by 2005, and diesel would have its sulphur levels reduced to 15 parts per million by 2006. The plan also proposes cutting smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions from vehicles by 90 per cent in total.

More than $48 million of the total federal commitment will be spent on the transportation sector, including monitoring, lab testing, and possibly even a program for scrapping high-emission vehicles. Representatives of the automotive and petroleum products industries say the federal targets are both achievable and inevitable.

All these provisions match existing U.S. regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency — a fact that met a great deal of cynicism from environmentalists. John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada told reporters that the federal announcement was little more than an exercise in political cover.

“I think it was largely announced today to cover the fact we have such inaction on climate change,” said Bennett. “Most of this stuff (Anderson) is talking about is studying, discussing or following programs that exist in the United States.”

The Ozone Annex, negotiated last year under the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement, includes commitments by both countries to dramatically reduce the smog-causing pollutants nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that cause ground-level ozone to form and which create health and environmental problems on both sides of the border. The Annex also contains commitments on monitoring and reporting measures.

“We know that air pollution affects our health, and that children, senior citizens and those with respiratory and cardiac illness are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of dirty air”, says Anderson. “Therefore, our job is not finished. We will continue to work on reducing emissions from industrial sectors, on engaging more and more Canadians and on strengthening the foundation of clean air science.”

The plan, however, fell short of lowering the boom on polluting coal-fired electricity generators.

“A big deal would be if (Anderson) announced that we’re going to require Ontario Power Generation to stop burning coal,” Bennett complained. “That would be the announcement we’re looking for.”

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