Carbon neutral scheme is sinking

Tom Fletcher looks at the demise of the Pacific Carbon Trust.

VICTORIA – Two days after Energy Minister Bill Bennett announced the demise of the Pacific Carbon Trust, the public accounts committee convened at the legislature to pound a few more nails into its carbon-sequestering coffin.

Assistant Auditor General Morris Sydor was there to defend his report from last March that concluded the B.C. government was not “carbon neutral” in 2010, because the trust paid $6 million for hastily arranged offset projects that were not valid.

An Encana Corp. gas flaring reduction project at Fort Nelson and a forest preserve in the Kootenays would have proceeded without assistance from $25 a tonne carbon fee imposed on hospitals, universities, colleges and until last year, school districts. In fact they did proceed without this subsidy. The government continues to deny this, but not many people outside the international carbon offset sales racket believe them.

The Pacific Carbon Trust’s functions will continue, Bennett said. Instead of a board of directors and 18 staff, five people headed by an assistant deputy minister will evaluate projects and bestow millions taken from college, university and health authority budgets each year.

B.C.’s school districts are still paying $5 million a year to offset such nefarious activities as heating their schools. But now the money goes into a “Carbon Neutral Capital Program,” and districts have to apply to get their money back for emission-reducing projects.

This is going so well, according to Bennett, that post-secondary institutions and health authorities will be converted to a similar program in the years ahead.

How is that school program going? Here are some examples.

The Coast Mountains School District around Terrace paid $66,452 for carbon offsets last year. It got back most of its three years of offset payments as a grant to complete a boiler upgrade for its Kitimat high school.

Abbotsford and Nanaimo school districts each have to pay about $100,000 a year. They got money back for school boiler upgrades as well, although local school officials say that would not likely have been the top priority for spending, if it hadn’t been for the program that forces districts to spend grants immediately on emission reduction.

Surrey school district paid out $585,000 last year, and also upgraded boilers. Vancouver’s pitch this year was for three electric cars.

Leaving aside the distortion of spending priorities caused by this restrictive tax-and-spend scheme, what happens when they run out of boilers to upgrade? And has it occurred to the government’s “carbon neutral” braintrust that those new boilers are still burning natural gas?

This program is about to be foisted onto universities and hospitals. Does anyone actually believe that heating hospitals and college classrooms is a key driver of global warming? Presumably our carbon czars know that 40 per cent of B.C.’s human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation, and a few electric cars for school district staff aren’t going to change that.

And what happens when colleges and hospitals run out of boilers to modernize and insulation to upgrade? It won’t be long at this rate.

In hindsight, this “carbon neutral government” scheme is perhaps the worst single idea implemented in 12 years of B.C. Liberal government. Gordon Campbell’s grand vision of a province where government sets the green standard and the private sector economy follows has simply not worked.

The NDP presented a motion in April 2012 to relieve hospitals, colleges and universities of their carbon offset obligation. The idea was supported by a B.C. Liberal backbencher, who argued that B.C. should also scrap the carbon tax and quit pretending it can change the climate.

His name? Bill Bennett.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.


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