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MONTREAL (Reuters) - The government said on Thursday it will set fuel-consumption standards for cars and light trucks that at least match U.S. rules, but environmental groups criticized the plan for falling short of California's tougher targets.
"We want to make sure...that it is a Canada-made standard and that it will be the most stringent, dominant standard in North America," Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters at the Montreal Auto Show.
Until now, Canada has had a voluntary policy for improvements in fuel consumption from cars and light trucks.
Cannon said he began a 60-day consultation with auto makers, environmental groups and others on the matter and expects the new standards to be ready by the end of this year.
The minister said Canada would match and perhaps top U.S. standards, which require auto makers to improve fuel economy by some 40 percent by 2020 with vehicles that have fuel consumption of 35 miles per gallon (6.7 liters per 100 kilometers).
That is comparable to the fuel consumption of small, low-emissions cars such as the Toyota Yaris or BMW's Mini Cooper today.
The Sierra Club of Canada said Ottawa should try to match California's initiative to reach a fuel consumption standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2016.
The 2020 target would cost Canadians billions of dollar more in gasoline consumption and cause irreparable damage to the global climate through emissions of greenhouse gases, the environmental group said.
"Constant delay already means that North America is 15 years behind Europe and Japan in regulating fuel efficiency standards," said Jean Langlois, National Campaigns Director at Sierra Club.
Other jurisdictions, including Quebec, have also pledged to adopt California standards.
"We prefer the California standard. We feel that we have to push forward on that," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said in Sherbrooke, Quebec on Thursday.
"It is the transport sector in Quebec that produces the most greenhouse gases," he added.
Cannon noted that in December the Bush administration rebuffed California's attempt to set its own tougher standards for auto emissions. Earlier this month, California and 15 other states launched a legal challenge to Washington's decision.
GM said this week that the U.S. standards on fuel economy and tailpipe emissions would add $6,000 to the price of its vehicles sold in the United States.
Reporting by Robert Melnbardis; Editing by Bernadette Baum