Backgrounder

Harper Government Moves to Strengthen Regulations on Air Pollution to Provide Cleaner Air for Canadians

The Issue

Smog caused by air pollutants has a significant cost on the health of Canadians, the Canadian economy, and the environment.

The operation of motor vehicles is a source of these smog-forming air pollutants and the Government of Canada is taking further steps to address pollutants from cars and light-duty trucks to help ensure clean air for current and future generations.

What the Government is Doing

The Government of Canada intends to further limit emissions of smog-forming air pollutants from new cars and light-duty trucks and to reduce the sulphur content of gasoline. This work would see amendments to the existing “Tier 2” vehicle emission regulations that took effect starting with 2004 model-year vehicles, which have already resulted in important reductions in smog-forming emissions from the fleet of vehicles operated in Canada. At that time, complementary regulations were also put in place to ensure that the sulphur content of gasoline would be compatible with the emission control technology entering the Canadian market on Tier 2 vehicles. The latest emissions numbers estimate that in 2011 total emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) from light-duty vehicles  and light-duty trucks operating on Canadian roads were about 40 percent and 45 percent lower, respectively, compared to levels in 2003 before the regulations took effect. These air pollutants are the main contributors to the formation of ground-level ozone, a primary component of smog.

Strengthening existing regulations would serve to build on these successes. Amendments to the On-Road Vehicle and Engine Emissions Regulations would include more stringent emission standards to reduce smog-forming emissions from new passenger cars, light trucks, SUVs and some heavy-duty vehicles such as delivery trucks beginning with the 2017 model year. Amendments to the Sulphur in Gasoline Regulations would reduce the average sulphur content of gasoline to 10 parts per million, from the current level of 30 parts per million, beginning in 2017, to ensure the effective operation of advanced emission control technologies on 2017 and later model year vehicles. Lower levels of sulphur in gasoline would also reduce air pollutant emissions from the fleet of in-use vehicles.

The details of the planned regulations will be developed through the normal regulatory process, in consultation with stakeholders.

Continuing Alignment with the United States

On March 29, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a notice of proposed rulemaking known as the proposed “Tier 3” rule, which includes more stringent emission standards for the emission performance of new cars and light trucks beginning with the 2017 model year, as well as a requirement to reduce the average sulphur content of gasoline beginning in 2017 to ensure the effective operation of advanced emission control technologies. Once fully phased-in, these standards are expected to reduce smog-forming air pollutants from new vehicles by approximately 80 percent compared to the current standards.

Given the integrated nature of the North American auto industry, Canada and the United States have co-operated on the development of aligned vehicle emissions standards which preserve the competitiveness of Canadian automakers, provide regulatory certainty to industry, and lower the compliance costs of Canadian companies, which ultimately benefits consumers.

Through today’s notice, the Government of Canada is further demonstrating its commitment to working closely with the United States to maintain common, stringent vehicle emission standards on both sides of the border. This builds on the long history of regulatory alignment between the two countries under the Canada–United States Air Quality Agreement and, more recently, within the policy objectives of the Canada–United States Regulatory Cooperation Council.

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