Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is still spruiking the success of the ERF, despite experts repeatedly pointing out it is showing few signs of generating new and substantial cuts to national carbon emissions. This week he announced the next stage in the plan is about to kick in.

The ERF’s safeguard mechanism comes into effect on 1 July 2016, but it doesn’t have a lot of spine.

The mechanism will supposedly ensure the 140 biggest carbon emitters in the country do not exceed their recent business-as-usual emissions baselines without a jolly good excuse or the purchase of sufficient Australian Carbon Credit Units to balance the excess.

The policy has what the government is calling “flexible compliance arrangements”.

Under the policy, all the big polluters will be allowed to exceed the baseline without any penalty or offsets so long as average emissions over a two-to-three-year period do not.

Polluters will also be allowed to exceed their baseline if population increases, production increases or other factors are responsible, so long as emissions intensity doesn’t increase too.

So, one of the nation’s top 10 carbon polluters AGL, for example, would be able to increase its emissions if it needed to increase coal-fired power generation to meet increased electricity demand in a key market.

The benchmarks beyond which Mr Hunt believes the policy will encourage them not to stray are generally to be based on the highest annual Scope 1 emissions levels reported under their National Greenhouse Energy Reporting Scheme obligations between 2009 and 2014.

The government is now seeking public comment on the guidelines it is developing for the setting of baselines for new facilities or for significant expansions of existing ones after 2020.

Mr Hunt’s office said “extensive consultation with industry and the community” will be followed by expert review by an independent committee.

Once the guidelines are finalised, then work will begin on the first guidelines. Written comments are being accepted until 6 May 2016.

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