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Canada has deployed a "multi-pronged" lobbying strategy against the Trump administration's budget over concerns that proposed U.S. cuts will put a “fundamental” component of the Trudeau government's climate change plan in jeopardy, newly-released federal briefing documents show.
The records from the director of the Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada warn that Trump's proposed cuts would spell trouble not only for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's climate change policies, but also for numerous provincial government energy efficiency programs and tens of thousands of Canadian jobs.
ENERGY STAR, a popular initiative that identifies the most energy-efficient products on the market, creating jobs and helping people lower their energy use and save money, was put on the chopping block earlier this year by the White House, as part of its proposal to reduce funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The U.S.-run program and its well-known sticker showing a stylized white star on a blue background is familiar to many Canadians and Americans. It was launched in 2001 and designed to help consumers identify energy efficient products to lower their utility bills.
President Donald Trump's White House said the plan to eliminate the program would save taxpayer dollars. His critics, however, say his budget needlessly slashes and burns the EPA, among other key departments and services.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from National Observer.
Senior Canadian government officials were among those alarmed by Trump's proposal, according to the briefing documents obtained by National Observer through access to information legislation.
The Canadian officials responded to the Trump budget by crafting an aggressive, “multi-pronged” lobbying campaign to push back, joining the efforts of dozens of organizations and companies such as 3M, Intel and others, the documents indicated. From the Canadian side, the lobbying was to be spearheaded by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.
Canada is heavily invested in the program, according to the documents:
- Natural Resources Canada considers it to be a “fundamental element” of the Trudeau government’s climate change plan, and says 2017 budget programs "could not be implemented as proposed if ENERGY STAR is eliminated."
- Losing the program, it said, would mean "ceding ground to European and Asian standards in the fastest-growing job segment of the energy sector — energy efficiency," a sector supporting 100,000 Canadian jobs.
- ENERGY STAR is the "foundation for almost all provincially-funded energy efficiency programs," and cost-savings for Canadians would be “at risk” if the program was killed. The program saves North American households about $500 on average per year.
- Natural Resources says the program is “highly embedded in the Canadian marketplace" with support from a “broad cross-section of the economy," and has about 90 per cent brand recognition.
ENERGY STAR gets one of the best rates of return for any U.S. government program, according to the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, shaving $34 billion USD off utility bills in 2015 while only costing around $50 million a year to operate.
North of the border, Amin Asadollahi, co-chair of the Green Budget Coalition and North American lead for climate mitigation at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said ENERGY STAR has helped businesses and Canadians reduce their energy costs and carbon pollution.
Asadollahi said it helps consumers make more informed decisions on most energy efficient equipment — everything from appliances to windows and doors, kitchen items, electronics, heating and cooling, lighting and other devices.
"Defunding of ENERGY STAR by the Trump administration will have an impact beyond U.S. borders, and will undermine Canada's energy efficiency and climate efforts," he said.
The department was preparing for ENERGY STAR funding to be cut off as early as two weeks from now. There are signs it continues to be threatened: a U.S. House of Representatives budget proposal cuts the program almost in half.
Now the Senate needs to weigh in. Meanwhile, ENERGY STAR lives on as part of a "continuing resolution" signed by U.S. President Donald Trump this month that, in theory, will keep the government funded at last year's levels until Congress agrees on a plan for 2018.
"It’s not clear how this is going to play out," said Ben Evans, vice president of government affairs and communications at the Alliance to Save Energy, one of several U.S.-based groups identified in the documents as having expressed concern to Congress. The alliance has called the U.S. House proposal a "debilitating cut."
“We’re hopeful the Senate will propose a good bill, and we’re going to be working over the next few months very aggressively to defend the program."
ENERGY STAR cut would 'jeopardize' a third of carbon pollution reductions
The documents show the program’s elimination would “jeopardize” a third of all greenhouse gas emissions reductions projected in the Trudeau government’s climate action plan — the portion that represents energy efficiency interventions.
The alarm within the government pushed bureaucrats to recruit Trudeau's cabinet ministers in the lobbying efforts, the documents show.
Carr, Trudeau's natural resources minister, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on April 24, reiterating the importance of Canada-U.S. collaboration on energy, "including energy programs such as the EPA-run ENERGY STAR program," said Tania Carreira Pereira, communications officer for media relations at Natural Resources Canada, in response to questions.
Several pages within the documents released by Natural Resources Canada were censored under sections of federal access to information legislation that allow the government to withhold details that could harm Canada's international relations, involving ongoing advice and deliberations, as well as solicitor-client privileged information.
Carr's press secretary Alexandre Deslongchamps said that the minister's letter to Pruitt is "not in the public domain."
"Natural Resources Canada will continue to work closely with the U.S. EPA to uphold its commitments as an international ENERGY STAR partner and to deliver ENERGY STAR programs for products, homes, buildings and industry in Canada," Pereira said. Carr had also met earlier with Pruitt on March 29, the documents show.
The federal records demonstrate how the department saw an opening early on to lobby congressional members and others for the program to be saved, during the time between the White House’s budget blueprint and congressional budget approval.
“During this timeframe, prior to the final budget decision, a multi-pronged engagement approach...is recommended,” the documents read. “Advocacy and engagement to underscore Canada’s support for ENERGY STAR, profiling its benefits to the U.S. economy and consumers, and the risks that privatization could bring, would serve to minimize risks to Canadian provinces.”
The "ENERGY STAR Engagement Strategy” described in the documents lays out a campaign involving ministers, the embassy in Washington and key industry players. It is reminiscent of the Harper government's deployment of Canadian diplomats to lobby companies in the U.S. to counter an environmental advocacy campaign targeting the oilsands industry.
The newly-released documents also noted “engagement opportunities” with members of Congress, including the appropriations committee, the House and Senate energy committees and the appropriations subcommittees for environment. It suggested the embassy in DC “host events and participate in third-party events to convey Canadian messages.”
Both McKenna and Carr have met with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair, Senator Lisa Murkowski, the documents show. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy are also singled out as receiving a letter from 36 Senators “expressing concern” with cuts to the EPA, in particular ENERGY STAR.
Pruitt and his office have been a main target. The documents suggest “broad engagement of Pruitt staff” and names over a dozen staffers as potential contacts.
Ministers have been drafted to include energy efficiency messages in their outreach in Washington and across the U.S. The document makes it clear to ensure that McKenna and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson were “well briefed” on the issue and could “raise the issue in their U.S.-focused meetings and stakeholder work.”
McKenna's office was contacted but did not respond to questions by publication.
But earlier this week, Prime Minister Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa that he expects municipal, state and congressional politicians to lead the U.S. in efforts to fight climate change, even if there is "a little less participation" on the file by the Trump administration.
“In the conversations I’ve had with Americans — whether they be congressional leaders, governors, or mayors across the United States, or businesses who get the opportunities that come with the challenge of climate change — I’m confident that the United States is still going to be moving forward in the fight against climate change,” Trudeau said.
Firms, groups state support for energy efficiency program
ENERGY STAR is used in Canada and the United States, as well as six other jurisdictions: Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association and Switzerland. Natural Resources Canada is the sole Canadian administrator. It is currently operating under an agreement between the department and the EPA, which the documents say expire on March 14, 2019.
In addition to the congressional campaign, the departmental documents suggest identifying and working with “third party influencers that could advance the message,” such as “industry leaders and associations, labour organizations, building organizations as well as sub-national leaders on energy efficiency.”
It notes how stakeholders have “expressed concern about this proposed cut to Congress,” and specifically names 3M, Johnson Controls, Philips Lighting, Intel, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Alliance to Save Energy.
“As a founding partner of the program, Johnson Controls supports continued funding of ENERGY STAR," said the firm's global media relations director Fraser Engerman, when reached for comment.
He said the program saved $430 billion USD on utility bills for U.S. consumers since 1992, and avoided 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas.
"Elimination or reduction in funding for ENERGY STAR will only hurt consumers and increase energy costs," Engerman said.
In a statement, 3M said they were supportive of ENERGY STAR, noting they were among dozens of groups and companies that signed a March 21 letter in support of the program to congressional committee leaders.
Patricia Remick, senior energy communications strategist at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the organization and others, as well as manufacturers and businesses "have been very vocal in their opposition to the proposed cuts."
"We have posted numerous blogs about this and they have been shared with members of Congress," said Remick. She pointed to a letter to congressional representatives signed by over 1,000 organizations and businesses supporting ENERGY STAR.
"In addition, numerous organizations and manufacturers have talked to members of Congress about their concerns. It is no secret that we think this voluntary program, arguably one of America's most effective public-private partnerships, should be fully funded."
Elimination, laceration or privatization?
Ben Evans at the Alliance to Save Energy said his organization didn't know how the U.S. House's proposed cut, or the White House's proposal to scrap the program, would be implemented and how that might affect Canada.
“Obviously, you can safely assume that a 40 per cent cut like that, which is roughly what that is, would have debilitating impacts on the program across the board," said Evans. But, he said, “no one has spelled out exactly how such a cut would be implemented at the sub-program level."
The program is split into three sub-programs, the Canadian government records state. ENERGY STAR for Products, which certifies consumer and commercial products, costs $2.8 million (CDN) to administer in 2017-18, and there were 50 million certified products sold in Canada in 2015-16.
Another sub program is ENERGY STAR for New Homes, which cost $1.3 million in 2017-18, and has achieved 70,000 labelled homes in 2016-17. A third is ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, an “energy benchmarking” tool for commercial and institutional buildings. That cost $2.2 million in 2017-18, and has certified 17,400 Canadian buildings as of March 2017.
Pereira, the communications officer at Natural Resources Canada, said the government launched another program in August, ENERGY STAR for Industry, at the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference in New Brunswick. The program is aimed at "helping facilities track, analyze and reduce their energy consumption," said Pereira.
The government remains committed to energy efficient products, equipment, homes, buildings and industrial processes as a way to reduce emissions and meet Canada’s climate change obligations, Pereira added.
Asadollahi, of the Green Budget Coalition and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Canada can put ENERGY STAR on "life support," and "work with other countries, who also depend on the program, to further strengthen it.'"
"It will be a win-win by helping Canadian businesses and homes use energy more efficiently and save money while contributing to climate objectives," he said.
The Green Budget Coalition, which represents 19 Canadian environmental and conservation organizations, said in its annual budgetary recommendation released Sept. 20 that Canada itself should manage ENERGY STAR for the next five years, at a “minimum funding” of $25 million per year..
Another possible outcome, however, is that ENERGY STAR is privatized.
The departmental documents refer multiple times to privatization, although it’s addressed indirectly. At one point, they discuss mitigating the risk of program “elimination /privatization.” At another point it refers to U.S. lobbying to understate “the risks that privatization could bring.”
As well, a March 21, 2017 memo obtained by InsideClimate News that was written by David Bloom, acting chief financial officer at the EPA, directs top staff to “begin developing legislative options and associated groundwork for transferring ownership and implementation of Energy Star to a non-governmental entity.”
He signed off by saying, "thank you again in advance for all your efforts as we begin to plan for this new direction."