WHISTLER, B.C. - Premier Christy Clark says British Columbia's proposed liquefied natural gas industry has the power to fight air pollution in China and clear up smog in Los Angeles.
The premier's natural gas development minister also boasted to delegates at the same conference on Monday that the LNG industry will clean up the provincial debt.
Clark told the Pacific Northwest Economic Region gathering, where business and government leaders from U.S. states, provinces and territories gathered to address policy issues, that LNG will fight harmful greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, but it may also increase those same emissions in B.C.
"This is our biggest opportunity we've ever had to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide," Clark told a crowd in Whistler, B.C. "Studies have shown cleaner air in China means cleaner air here. Cleaner air in China means fewer smog days in Los Angeles."
She said China plans to reduce its energy dependency on coal and is looking to increase its use of natural gas by four per cent, which is not a large number, but is equivalent to all the greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. for a period of 18 months.
"The environment knows no borders," Clark said. "This is one world and we all share the air in it."
The premier said the Liberal government is banking on at least three LNG export plants operating in B.C. by 2020. The major export markets for B.C. LNG are China, South Korea and Japan.
Clark said five LNG plants have the potential of creating 100,000 jobs and the revenues could clear the province's debt, currently at more than $60 billion.
B.C. Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman downplayed comments by energy industry insiders who said many of the current LNG projects at the development stage in B.C. will not end up in production.
Coleman said there are more than a dozen plants in the works.
"If three went ahead we'd more than meet any commitment we made relative to debt-free B.C. and building a prosperity fund," said Coleman. "There are 16 (firms) now here, some small, some large, but the fact of the matter is they are all here and they are all saying they are competitive."
Clark told reporters following her keynote address that she remains committed to meeting B.C.'s legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets of one-third less emissions by 2020, but the opportunity to cut emissions worldwide should not be rejected.
Environmental groups say Clark's plans to allow the proposed LNG plants to run on natural gas rather than electricity will increase greenhouse gas emissions at home.
"Technology is going to continue to catch up at reducing those emissions that we produce," Clark said. "In helping China, we are really helping ourselves in the long term. For B.C. to have the biggest chance we've ever had to clean up the world's air and decide we don't want to, I think is the wrong course."
Clark said the Pacific Northwest region, which includes Canada's North, the Prairie provinces, much of the U.S. west coast and Idaho, Montana and Alaska, must bridge economic prosperity with environmental sustainability for the region to continue to prosper.
"I believe there's a new paradigm that's emerged that allows us to be able to do both at the same time," she said. "Circumstances compel us to do better, and find a way to combine economic growth and environmental protection and respect in a brand new way."