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TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Ontario said it would introduce legislation on Wednesday to create a cap and trade program to lower industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
If the legislation is passed it is expected to help the province meet climate change commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2014 and 15 percent by 2020.
The cap and trade system, already in use in the European Union, would set limits on emissions. Any company that produces more carbon than the cap allows would be able to buy offsetting credits from companies that emit less. If not, these companies would face penalties imposed by the regulator.
"Our government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and working with our industries as they transition to the new green economy," John Gerretsen, Ontario's environment minister, said in a statement.
The province -- Canada's industrial heartland -- said it anticipates a North American cap and trade plan could be in place as early as 2012.
But the province's announcement drew a mixed reaction from the Pembina Institute, an environmental group that has championed the adoption of cap and trade systems.
While it showed that Ontario was committed to the issue of climate change, the legislation left out critical details such as emission cut targets to be set by future regulations, the institute said.
"Taking action now, instead of delaying, would put Ontario in a much stronger position to shape climate change regulations in North America, provide much-needed certainty for industry, avoid possible punitive measures from the U.S., and increase the chance of Ontario meeting its climate change goals," Pembina said in a statement.
Ontario would be the third province to adopt a cap and trade system, after British Columbia and Quebec. Manitoba is expected to soon follow suit.
All four provinces are part of the Western Climate Initiative, which was launched in 2007 and also includes seven U.S. states, including California, Arizona and Washington.
According to the provincial government, Ontario has already had discussions with nine industrial sectors likely to be involved in the cap and trade plan, including base metals, electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper, and steel.
Reporting by Frank Pingue, Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson