Economists weigh in on deceptive carbon pricing messages

Economist Brenda Frank contributes to the ongoing battle of ideas about carbon pricing in Canada with his  January 9 blog : “Carbon pricing works even when emissions are rising”. Frank begins:  “An old, debunked argument against carbon taxes has flared up recently: If total emissions aren’t falling, the tax must not be working. Let’s quash that myth.”  Continuing the arguments he published in a 2017 blog, “The curious case of counterfactuals”, his central question is, “if emissions are still rising, how fast would they have been rising without a carbon price?”  He cites recent studies, such as “The Impact of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax on Residential Natural Gas Consumption” (in  Energy Economics, Dec. 2018), as well as  the extensive carbon pricing reports produced by the Ecofiscal Commission, most recently Clearing the Air: How carbon pricing helps Canada fight climate change (April 2018).  The  conclusion: carbon pricing is more “complicated than something you can fit in a tweet”, and  complex analysis demonstrates that it does work.

Marc Hafstead , U.S. economist and Director of the Carbon Pricing Initiative pursues a similar theme in  “Buyer Beware: An Analysis of the Latest Flawed Carbon Tax Report” ( November 28).   Hafstead contends that “some papers can introduce confusion and misinformation”, and demonstrates how this is done in  The Carbon Tax: Analysis of Six Potential Scenarios , a study commissioned by the Institute for Energy Research and conducted by Capital Alpha Partners.  Hafstead critiques the modelling assumptions and concludes they are flawed ; he also charges that the paper fails to explain its differences from the prevailing academic literature.

Even without Hafstead’s economic skills, one might be wary of the U.S. paper after a check of the DeSmog’s  Global Warming Disinformation Database , which provides mind-blowing detail about the financial and personnel connections between the Institute for Energy Research and  Koch Industries . DeSmog maintains records on organizations and individuals engaged in “climate change disinformation” in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Review of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy; updates on renewables and methane regulations

env defence carbon-pricing-alberta-fbEnvironmental Defence released a report in December 2018, Carbon Pricing in Alberta: A review of its success and impacts  . According to the report, Alberta’s carbon levy, introduced in 2017 as part of the broader Climate Leadership Plan, has had no detrimental effect on the economy, and in fact, all key economic indicators (weekly consumer spending, consumer price index,and gross domestic product) improved in 2017. The report also documents how the carbon levy revenues have been invested: for example, over $1 billion used to fund consumer rebates and popular energy efficiency initiatives in 2017; support for Indigenous communities, including employment programs; a 500% growth in solar installations; funding for an expansion of light rail transit systems in Calgary and Edmonton; and prevention of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. The conclusion: the Climate Leadership Plan and its carbon levy is off to a good start, but improvement is needed on promised methane reduction regulations , and the regulations to enforce the legislated cap on oil sands emissions need to be released.

Methane Regulations:    The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a report in 2017 evaluating the province’s methane emissions regulations. On December 13, the government released new, final regulations governing methane. On December 19, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a summary of the new Regulations here  

Since the Environmental Defence study, on December 17, the government announced  agreement on five new wind projects funded by Carbon Leadership revenues, through the  Renewable Electricity Program. Three of the five projects are private-sector partnerships with First Nations, and include a minimum 25 per cent Indigenous equity component to stimulate jobs, skills training and other  economic benefits. The government claims that all five projects will generate 1000 jobs.

On  December 19 the government also  announced   new funding of  $50 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan for the existing  Sector-specific Industrial Energy Efficiency Program , to support technology improvements in the  trade-exposed industries of pulp and paper, chemical, fertilizer, minerals and metals facilities.

Balanced against this, a December 31 government press release summarized how its “Made in Alberta ” policies have supported the oil and gas industry: including doubling of support for petrochemical upgrading to $2.1 billion; creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) investment team to work directly with industry to expedite fossil fuel projects; political fights for new pipelines (claiming that “Premier Notley’s advocacy was instrumental in the federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline”), and the ubiquitous Keep Canada Working  advertisements promoting the keepcanada workingbenefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline . The press release also references the November announcement that the province will buy rail cars  to ship oil in the medium term,  and the December 11 press release announcing that the province is  exploring  private-sector interest in building a new oil refinery .

Canada joins the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Canada officially became a member of the the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)  on January 9th, on the eve of the 9th Session of the Assembly in Abu Dhabi, where  1,200 delegates from more than 160 governments, the private sector and civil society met. IRENA describes itself as: “an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.”

irena_renewable jobs 2017 coverCanada’s membership  brings to 160 the number of countries participating in IRENA, and will make it easier for Canadians to place their renewable energy development in an international context, by inclusion such flagship publications , such as the  Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review  . Recently, Vancouver B.C. was profiled as a case study in the IRENA publication Scaling up Renewables in Cities: Opportunities for Municipal Governments Renewable Energy.

The official press release from Canada’s ministry of Natural Resources was brief, and did not indicate any future plans for Canada’s involvement in IRENA research activities.   Some context is provided in a news item from the National Observer  . 

Updated: Agreement reached between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en First Nation protesters after arrests in B.C.

witsewen protestDespite the high praise for British Columbia’s new Clean B.C. strategy released  on December 5,  B.C. has a problem – supporting the $40 billion LNG Canada facility makes it almost impossible for the province to reach its GHG reduction targets. (Marc Lee his most recent critique in “BC’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood”.)  And on January 7, the headlines began screaming about another problem related to LNG Canada, as the RCMP began to enforce an injunction granted by B.C.’s Supreme Court, arresting fourteen members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en  built a fortified barrier on a remote forest service road near Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, to prevent construction workers from TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corp.) and their pipeline subsidiary Coastal GasLink. The company maintains that they have signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, but those agreements have been made with elected chiefs and councils of the five Wet’suwet’en bands. The hereditary chiefs maintain that the agreements do not apply to traditional lands.  The Vancouver Sun provides good local coverage atFourteen people arrested after RCMP break down anti-pipeline checkpoint“;   The Tyee explains the background and issues in “Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade” ; The Energy Mix  writes “Negotiations Seek ‘Peaceful Solution’ At Unist’ot’en After RCMP Arrest 14 Blocking Coastal Gaslink Pipeline” (Jan. 9) .

First Nations viewpoint appears in a series of posts at APTN News, including: “An act of war’: Gidimt’en clan prepares for police raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory” (Jan. 5);  “Researchers say RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en would place corporate interests over Indigenous rights” (Jan. 6) ; and “RCMP set up ‘exclusion zones’ for public and media as raid on B.C. camps start (Jan. 7) . According to those reports, “The Gidmit’en Clan, whose members are at the second check point, have called any RCMP raid an “act of war.”

haisla-nation logoNot all First Nations oppose the LNG Canada project.  In a summary of a Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa on December 13 , First Nations speakers  included Larry Villeneueve, Aboriginal Liaison with Local 92 of LiUNA, (involved in four training sites in western Canada for a skilled Indigenous workforce); Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, now Co-Chair of Indigenous Affairs Committee at LiUNA; and Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.  In An open letter to opponents and critics of LNG development   on the Haisla Nation website, Crystal Smith writes: “We urge you to think strongly about how your opposition to LNG developments is causing harm to our people and our wellbeing. Opposition does nothing towards empowering our Nation, but rather dismisses our Rights and Title and works towards separating our people from real benefits.” As this issue has heated up, on January 8 she posted “Investing in ourselves is not selling out” .

Rallies in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en resistance have been coordinated through a Facebook campaign, International Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en , and reports indicate turnout across Canada, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, New Brunswick, Whitehorse, and Calgary.  The APTNews  (Jan. 9) includes photos and video;  Regional CBC outlets have also covered the story:  “Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps  (Jan. 8);  “Protesters, counter protesters gather in downtown Calgary after B.C. pipeline arrests” ; “Protests in Regina, Saskatoon show solidarity with B.C. First Nation fighting pipelines”  (Jan. 8).  The National Observer reports that the Prime Minister was forced by protesters to change the time and venue of his address to First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 8th. Prime Minister Trudeau is visiting Kamloops on January 9 but has declined to visit the protest camp.

UPDATES: On January 9, the National Observer reported on a press conference with B.C. Premier Horgan, at which he asserted that “his government believed it had met its obligations to consult with Indigenous nations in approving TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink project by receiving the “free, prior, and informed” consent that is referenced in United Nations declarations on indigenous rights.”  He sees sees “no quick fix” to the issue and did not set out any path forward.

An “uneasy peace” was reached between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en protesters on January 9, allowing workers access to the  Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site in order to avoid a second RCMP raid on the protest camp. According to  “‘Peaceful Resolution’ to Unist’ot’en Blockade Allows Access, Not Construction, Chiefs Say” in The Energy Mix (Jan. 11)  and a related CBC report, “it’s a temporary solution to de-escalate things while everyone figures out their next moves.”

What comes next? Construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is certainly not settled, not only because of the issue of  Wet’suwet’en permission to build on heriditary lands  (that issue explained here ).  There is also dispute over whether or not the pipeline falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction – an issue to be addressed by the National Energy Board in April. Read Andrew Nikoforuk in “Is Coastal GasLink an Illegal Pipeline?” in The Tyee (Jan. 11) or  “Coastal GasLink pipeline permitted through illegal process, lawsuit contends” in The Narwhal .

An analysis in The Energy Mix, “Pipeline Investment ‘Goes Palliative’ in Wake of Unist’ot’en Blockade”  (Jan. 13) compiles responses to the blockade from several media outlets, and sketches out two themes. The first, Canada has provided yet another example of how unattractive and uncertain it is to energy investors; the second: First Nations concerns are represented by  both hereditary and elected leaders. “As long as they [the government]  are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”

 

Green New Deal – an opportunity for the U.S. and for Labour

As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal  have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown green new deal tweetsby  “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic.  More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org.  in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee  (Dec. 10) .

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the  Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs.  They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal .  Héctor Figueroa ,  President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .

The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3).  HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a  60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement  stated:  “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in  “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal”  from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”

The Select Committee is  not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill  . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .