By BARRY WEISLEDER
With the bar set so low by previous regimes in the oil patch, it seems that all the new Alberta government had to do was suppress a burp to be considered a leading agent of positive climate action. In truth, despite all the fanfare, the new energy policy of Premier Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP government is more a “marketing triumph” than a substantial effort to tackle global warming.
According to media reports, Alberta’s overall carbon emissions will be allowed to grow. There are no hard targets for emission cuts, only the vague pledge that they will begin to fall below today’s levels by 2030. Alberta coal plants will gradually be shut, but they were slated to be closed anyway.
The new cap on dirty oil emissions is so high that the tar sands will be able to grow another 43 per cent, roughly until 2030. Presently, they emit 70 megatonnes per year. With an annual cap of 100 megatonnes, there’s plenty more damage to the environment in store.
Alberta’s proposed carbon tax will hit consumers in the pocket book, regardless of ability to pay. It will cost an additional 7 cents a litre at the pump, and it will cost workers and the poor in other ways too as prices on related commodities rise.
The carbon tax would apply to all sectors of the economy and be phased in by Jan. 1, 2018, to $30 per tonne. When fully in effect, it would take in $3 billion a year. Notley promised that all the money would be invested in green initiatives within Alberta, including research and public transportation.
But it won’t keep the carbon in the ground. It will transfer wealth to the private-sector firms that will get the contracts. And in polishing the image of Canada’s most polluting province, it will profit the biggest polluters on the planet, breathing new life into their schemes to build more pipelines, including east through Canada, and south through the USA.
Does that explain why oil industry giants are so happy with Rachel Notley’s plan? At the news conference announcing her policy, in the company of several other big oil executives, Suncor CEO Steve Williams said, “This plan will make one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate-change challenge.” Sure. When pigs fly.
Fossil-fuel giants get $2.74 billion-plus in govt subsidies
The Canadian government still funds the fossil-fuel industry to the tune of $2.74 billion (U.S.) annually, despite a G20 pledge made in 2009 to totally phase out such support.
About 60 per cent came from Ottawa in 2013 and 2014, with the rest coming from the provinces, according to a report from the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International. The report also found that $2.7 billion in additional money flowed to the industry in the form of loans and loan guarantees, primarily through Export Development Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have said at the G20 meeting on Nov. 22 that he would redirect that support to clean energy sectors. But he didn’t.
It is cold comfort that Canada is not the worst offender. Russia provided eight times the subsidies and more than twice as much public financial support to fossil-fuel extractors. Annual U.S. subsidies amounted to $20.5 billion; though on a per capita basis, it is 20 per cent lower than Canadian levels.
The report considers a subsidy to be any dollar value associated with direct spending or lost tax revenue in a government budget.
Trudeau’s campaign platform pledged to “fulfill Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry,” starting with the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction. You can now add this to the growing list of broken Liberal promises.
Photo: Alberta’s oil sands, the largest industrial site in the world, have made a moonscape out of what was once lush forests.