TORONTO (CP) – The Conservatives’ clean air agenda contains so many gaps that it looks more like the beginning of a journey than the end.
 Despite the government’s claim it is moving to action after years of talk, the agenda will depend on additional research, extensive consultations and negotiations in coming years, with outcomes difficult to predict. For example, the agenda promises to set air quality objectives for particulate matter and ozone, but does not say at what level.
“A decision on air quality objectives will be made after an analysis of benefits and risks over a range of concentrations in the air we breathe has been made,” the document says.
 The agenda promises deep cuts on emissions of four important air pollutants:
nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides, volatile organic compounds and articulate matter, but does not set sector-specific reduction targets essential for achieving those promises.
 The agenda promises to regulate the fuel efficiency of vehicles by the 2010 model year but does not say what level of efficiency will be required.
The auto regulations will be “benchmarked against a stringent, dominant North American standard” – but which one? There are several possible standards, ranging from the tough California regulations to much weaker rules set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
 The agenda promises to regulate indoor air pollution for the first time, presenting this as a major new venture. But exactly which pollutants will be regulated? That remains to be determined.
The plan promises an offset system, under which non-regulated industries such as forestry and agriculture could launch projects to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but there are no details on how it would work.
 The document recognizes extensive consultations will be required. 
“In implementing the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda, the government will work with provincial and territorial governments, industry, environmental and health groups, scientists, municipalities, communities and individual Canadians.”
 Even the most prominent feature of the plan, the so-called intensity targets for major greenhouse emitters, is fraught with logistical challenges. How will the government monitor emissions from some 700 hundred large polluters?
Speaking at a news conference, Environment Minister John Baird said that Canadians are tired of talk on the environment.
“For far too long they have found themselves on the receiving end of promises that packaged a whole lot of punch but delivered little more than a pinch – what you call empty promises. Unlike our predecessors we are doing more than just talking, we’re taking real action.”
But environmentalists were not impressed. “I’m actually shocked at how little it is,” said John Bennett of Climate for Change. “What is industry’s target? How many megatonnes will industry do?
“We were told this was their green plan. What do we get? A few vague numbers, no hard targets, no action whatsoever.”
Aaron Freeman of Environment Defence said the agenda will provide action but at a pace so slow that Canada will be left behind other countries.
“For the first time we will have national air quality standards but we don’t know what those standards will look like. If they’re simply making mandatory what is now voluntary those are very weak standards.”
Liberal Mark Holland said the plan is “more scaffolding than anything else because were 15 months deep into this process. We’re still not getting any details.”
Baird acknowledged there is a lot of consultation and other work ahead.
“This is a mammoth undertaking. It doesn’t end today. Global warming and climate change are one of the biggest ecological threats the environment has ever faced. It’s going to require work every day, every month and every year.”
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