Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-33, which seeks to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and establish minimum levels of biofuel content in gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil, to be implemented within three to five years.
This legislation is wide open and does not differentiate between biofuels. And yet we know that not all biofuels are equal.
My colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior proposed some wise amendments at committee that would have helped to make biofuel production safer and more sustainable, but unfortunately they were voted down by Liberals and Conservatives.
These were amendments such as preserving the biodiversity of lands used in biofuel production and prohibiting the importation of grains or oils for use in biofuel production, which would have helped prevent the kind of problem that my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca just raised. There also was an amendment to establish criteria in relation to environmental sustainability of biofuel production and so on. As I said, these were voted down by Liberals and Conservatives.
However, at least his amendment strengthening the reporting requirements placed on government regarding how it is implementing the biofuels regime was approved at committee.
The amendment before us today, proposed by my colleague from Western Arctic, would ensure stronger oversight of the regulatory framework. Without proper safeguards such as this, we are giving the government a blank cheque to pursue a strategy that will not necessarily benefit rural communities in our country and could sacrifice millions of acres of productive crop land or grassland, all the while contributing to global warming.
Biofuels can be a first step toward a cleaner, greener, more affordable and more sustainable source of energy, as long as there exists a clear and comprehensive regulatory regime. That is what this amendment we are discussing today tries to get at.
Our amendments were intended to inject some sober second thought into a rush for alternative sources of fuel. They were intended to ensure that we do not forge ahead without a mechanism to determine if we are going down the right path or indeed creating other problems. As this legislation stands, it could cause more problems than it solves.
This enabling legislation does not differentiate or restrict to sustainable biofuels those which rely on waste products, for example, instead of food crops on agricultural lands for production. Even with so-called waste products, we must proceed carefully, because some of the suggested inedible agricultural products like corn husks or cornstalks can be used to replenish depleted soils in some countries or even in ours. On a life cycle basis, recycling and reuse are almost always a better conservation strategy, as they enable us to preserve, by recycling and reusing, a large portion of the energy used in converting raw materials into products in the first place.
Regardless of the problems with this legislation, I recognize that there is still an opportunity to ensure that we produce environmentally beneficial biofuels. For instance, innovative technology for treating sewage using human effluent in the production of biofuel to heat buildings and run vehicles is being examined as an approach to sewage treatment in my riding of Victoria. The food in this source of fuel would take an indirect route through our stomachs and through the toilets to a groundbreaking treatment plant. This is the only way that “food for fuel” makes sense.
Vancouver-based Paradigm Environmental Technologies Inc. piloted new technology that is 95% efficient in converting sludge waste to biogas, which is then converted into electricity and heat. These types of projects will generate environmental, social and economic benefits. I applaud the fact that Bill C-33 will enable them, but this kind of wide open legislation needs checks and balances because it also will enable many other projects that are not as sustainable.
At committee, a representative of the National Farmers Union stated that ethanol and biofuels were a costly misadventure and that the promoters of ethanol in Canada are mainly the big agribusiness corporations in this country. His concerns about corn-based or wheat-based ethanol and the significant amounts of energy required to produce it seem valid.
For corn-based ethanol to be a viable source of energy, it must be imported in even larger quantities than is currently bought from the United States and how would that benefit our farmers? We should be examining more sustainable methods of decreasing our fuel consumption and producing new renewable fuel sources rather than pursuing policies that will exacerbate the global food crisis and have little impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The focus of this legislation should not be to further enrich large corporate interests in the oil, agriculture or biotech industries. Worldwide investments in biofuel rose from $5 billion in 2005 and is expected to top $100 billion by 2010, thanks to investments from large multinationals like Cargill and others.
There are many concerns over food security and over the various causes of rising food prices. Oxfam and other agriculture groups say that the surging demand for biofuels like ethanol are contributing to the rising food crisis by turning food crops into an energy commodity and this, in turn, is fueling wild speculation in the stock market.
However, without fearmongering, this bill does raise serious concerns regarding the sustainability of production practices and there is nothing within the bill to restrict them in any way or to address emerging issues. We cannot charge ahead without considering the impact on food security or the chain reaction in land use caused by the acceleration of biofuel demand.
Without the NDP amendment proposed and defeated in committee, nothing in this legislation prevents producers from importing corn, for example, to make ethanol, which will contribute to that chain reaction. What kind of sustainable energy policy is that?
Testimony before the committee and recent comments on Bill C-33 show that many people are worried about the Conservative government's approach to the development of biofuels, and specifically to the problem of climate change in general.
Climate change is this generation's greatest challenge. Biofuels are just part of the solution to climate change in Canada. If we use some of the technologies I just mentioned, we can jump straight into the next generation of biofuels.
However, the government has largely overlooked one of the most important tools for tackling the massive problem of climate change, which is the widespread use of conservation measures to help wean us off our reliance on heating oils and to reduce our consumption of all types of fuels. If fuel is wasted, it does not matter if it is clean or dirty, it is still a waste.
Policies that promote a reduction in fuel consumption are always the best and most important policies, since they create a sustainable fuel system.
Above all, the federal government must make a real effort to tackle climate change. Regulations requiring the use of renewable fuels are just part of what is needed to ensure a more accessible source of energy.
If the government truly plans on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it must take a tougher approach. Climate change is our greatest challenge, and solutions to this problem must be sustainable.
Biofuels can be produced sustainably provided some conditions are met, for example a net decrease in greenhouse gases, minimal use of water, no competition with the production of food crops, and no detrimental effect on biodiversity. Once these criteria are met, the production of biofuels can be considered sustainable.
Our focus should be to provide opportunities for Canadian agriculture and rural communities by supporting small-scale regional renewable energy systems for multiple feedstock sources. Let us say yes indeed to biofuels, but let us apply some common sense reasoning, demonstrated by the amendments under consideration today.