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Great Lakes Article:

Goodale announces biggest-ever spending boost for the environment
Dennis Bueckert
Published February 23rd, 2005

OTTAWA (CP) - Finance Minister Ralph Goodale has delivered the greenest budget in Canadian history with $3 billion in newly announced spending over five years to cut pollution, protect national parks, promote alternative energy and improve fisheries management.

The new environmental funding is accompanied by $5 billion for municipalities, much of which is targetted towards improving the environment.

The biggest single item is a $1 billion Clean Fund to stimulate projects that cut greenhouse emissions in compliance with the Kyoto climate treaty.

Kyoto and other environmental improvements enjoy strong support from voters. Any significant backpedalling from Kyoto commitments would cost Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government the support of the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats.

The government will tap into public support for new environmental initiatives. Entrepreneurs, provinces and municipalities will be invited to propose ideas for cutting emissions and the best ideas will be funded. Some of the projects may be in foreign countries when this is deemed in the national interest.

"Canadians want us to demonstrate that smart economic policy and smart environmental policy can go hand in hand," Goodale said Wednesday.

The budget provides a $225 million expansion of the popular EnerGuide program, which subsidizes work to make homes more energy efficient. The program has already supported an estimated 125,000 home retrofits.

Contrary to expectations the budget doesn't provide rebates on the purchase of fuel-efficient cars or extra fees for gas guzzlers, but the government says it will seek advice on such options with a view to the next federal budget.

Responding to complaints that Canada's tax system is tilted to favour fossil fuel developments, the budget provides $295 million in tax incentives for alternative energy generation.

Municipalities will get $300 million for green projects such as cleaning up abandoned and polluted properties known as brownfields.

There will be $200 million to support research and development in the clean energy sector, and another $200 million to stimulate the use of wind power. Other types of alternative energy will get $97 million over five years.

Efforts to eliminate harmful chemicals from food and water will get a boost with $90 million for assessment of chemicals under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Painful experience with pests from purple loosestrife to the zebra mussel have sparked an $85 million investment to fend off invasive animal and plant species. Ongoing efforts to clean up the Great Lakes will get $40 million.

In addition to the $3 billion in new money earmarked for the environment, the $5-billion gas tax transfer to municipalities will support programs with environmental benefits, notably mass transit.

Approximately $2 billion in environmental spending from previous budgets will continue, although it may be redirected. That brings the total in green spending to $5 billion over five years.

The greenest previous budget goes back to the green plan of Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, worth approximately $3 billion over five years.

Goodale's Clean Fund is not without controversy. It appears the fund will not operate at arms' length from government, opening the door to claims that green funds are being used for political purposes.

If the fund sponsors projects in countries like Russia and Ukraine, critics will protest the money is being used to buy "hot air" even though the government has promised all spending will be tied to real environmental impact.

Highlights of the five-year, $5-billion environment plan in the federal budget:

-$1 billion for a Clean Air Fund to reduce greenhouse gases.

-$225 million to retrofit homes under the popular EnerGuide program.

-$200 million to support clean energy and technology.

-$200 million to promote wind power.

-$97 million to promote other types of renewable energy such as small hydro, biomass and landfill gas.

-$295 million in tax incentives for efficient and renewable energy.

-$300 million for green municipal projects, including cleanup of contaminated sites.

-$85 million to fend off invasive animal and plant species.

-$40 million for Great Lakes cleanup.

-$28 million to "preserve the health" of Canada's oceans.

-$15 million for fisheries conservation in the Northwest Atlantic.

-$90 million to assess potentially harmful chemicals under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

-$269 million for national parks.

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