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.

New B.C. Plan weds a clean economy with economic growth and worker training

cleanbc logoBritish Columbia’s long-promised climate plan, CleanB.C.  was released on December 5. The press release summary is here , details are in a 16-page Highlights Report . Top-line summary: the CleanBC plan is at pains to emphasize that it is a plan for economic growth as well as a cleaner environment.  B.C.’s existing carbon tax will increase $5.00 per year from 2018 to 2021, with rebates for low and middle income British Columbians and support for clean investments in industry.  CleanB.C. repeats some already announced initiatives, such as the the zero-emissions vehicle sales mandate and ZEV consumer incentives,  and the requirement for new buildings to be  “net-zero energy ready” by 2032.  Publicly-funded housing will benefit from $400 million to support retrofits and upgrades.  Cleaner operations by industry will target a 45% reduction of methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations , and incentives “will provide clean electricity to planned natural gas production in the Peace region”.  There is also support through “a regulatory framework for safe and effective underground CO₂ storage and direct air capture “.

CleanB.C. recognizes the needs of workers.  From the Highlights: “As new jobs and professions emerge, post-secondary education and training need to keep pace. The Province is working with employers, Indigenous communities, labour groups and postsecondary institutions to analyze the labour market and identify: -where the strongest job growth is likely to be, – what skills are needed to meet the demand, – what specific training we need to develop and deliver in our communities, and – what support students and apprentices need to excel in these programs. As a first step, we are investing in two key sectors where we already know demand is strong and growing – cleaner buildings and cleaner transportation:  – Developing programs like Energy Step Code training and certification and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation – Expanding job training for electric and zero-emission vehicles.” The government also states it is developing a  CleanBC Labour Readiness Plan, which is part of the reason that  Unifor responded with “Unifor supports introduction of Clean B.C. Plan”.  Laird Cronk, president of the  BC Federation of Labour calls the new strategy an “historic opportunity” to develop a sustainable economy, and states: “We’re committed to working together on just and fair transition strategies to protect existing workers and to ensure that new employment opportunities created by the CleanBC plan are good, family- and community-supporting jobs.”

The general acclaim for Clean B.C. is compiled in a Backgrounder at the B.C. government website, with statements from politicians, environmentalists, business leaders, First Nations, labour unions, and academics- among them,  Marc Jaccard from Simon Fraser University, who states:  “This plan returns B.C. to global climate leadership.” From other sources:  Clean Energy Canada:  “CleanBC marks a turning point for B.C.’s environment and economy”  (Dec. 5);  The Broadbent Blog , which singles out the exemplary commitment to equity and reconciliation with First Nations people; the Pembina Institute, “B.C. climate plan sets a course to Canada’s clean future”   and  “Five bright spots in B.C.’s new climate plan”, which highlights the importance of the accountability mechanism.   The David Suzuki Foundation   calls it a “Big Step Forward”, but points out that there is more to be done – a Phase 2 is needed.

The Phase 2 of further initiatives (and implementation legislation ) are promised. The  Government clearly admits that the initiatives announced on December 5 will only  achieve 18.9 Mt GHG reduction, leaving a 25% gap with what is required by the  legislated target for 2030 ( 25.4 Mt GHG from a 2007 baseline).

The response from West Coast Environmental Law  applauds and endorses CleanB.C. and its accountability measures, but raises the elephant in the room question:  “We know that the Province needs to go further: the map set out in CleanBC is not complete, nor does it go far enough. Some recent decisions, for example on LNG, are difficult to square with this climate plan”.  This big LNG question also appears in “Critics question B.C.’s LNG pursuit in wake of climate plan announcement” (updated on December 6), stating that “ the already-approved LNG export facilities — LNG Canada and Woodfibre in Squamish — would take up almost all of B.C.’s allowable carbon footprint under the current targets.”  The government’s current LNG Framework   was released in March 2018 , allowing the approval of a controversial  $40-billion LNG project centred in Kitimat  in October 2018.  At that time, the Green Party leader linked his Party’s support for the clean growth strategy and promised the Greens “would have  more to say” about LNG after the Clean Growth strategy was finalized.

B.C. consultation on “Clean Growth” policies for transportation, industry, and the built environment

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgWhile British Columbia is understandably preoccupied with the devastating wildfires raging across the entire province, an engagement process called Towards a Clean Growth Future in B.C.  was launched on July 20, with a short, summertime deadline of August 24.

Three brief Intentions Papers have been published to solicit public input : Clean Transportation ,which discusses policies to incentivize Zero Emissions Vehicles – including the possibility of a ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel light duty vehicles by 2040;  Clean, Efficient Buildings,  which proposes five steps to cleaner buildings, including Energy efficiency labeling information, financial incentives, and additional training for workers in energy efficient retrofitting and in the new-build Energy Step code; and A Clean Growth Program for Industry , which includes the province’s Industrial Incentive under the carbon tax regime and addresses the potential dangers of “carbon leakage”.

Public Submissions are available online  and to date have been submitted by: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), written by Marc Lee ; Closer Commutes ;   The Wilderness Committee ; and  The Pembina Institute , which at 37 pages is extremely detailed, and includes 5 recommendations relating to Training and Certification for Clean Buildings,  including  a call for “a construction labour strategy that addresses skilled labour gaps and equity issues in the building industry. Integrate with emerging technology and innovation strategy to foster greater use of automation and prefabrication.”

The West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCEL)  also posted a thorough discussion of the Clean Growth proposals on its own website on August 16.  “BC’s decade-delayed climate strategies show why we need legal accountability” by Andrew Gage notes that the intentions papers are largely built on existing proposals (some dating back to the 2008 Climate Action Team  Report ), and that they are not complete, as the government is also developing proposals through its  Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council  and the newly appointed Emerging Economy Task Force .  (The Wilderness Committee calls the proposals “underwhelming”). Whatever the final policies that flow from these consultations, WCEL emphasizes the importance of demanding accountability, and like Marc Lee in his submission, points to the success of the U.K.’s Climate Accountability Act (2008). WCEL has previously critiqued  Bill 34, B.C.’s  Climate Change Accountability Act which received Royal Assent on  May 31 2018.

Another commentary, appearing in the National Observer (July 27) addresses the weakness of the transportation proposals.  “B.C.’s climate plan needs a push – from you”  refers to the author’s more detailed report, Transportation Transformation: Building complete communities and a zero-emission transportation system in BC , which was published by the CCPA in 2011.

The CCPA also published an article on August 2, 2018 in Policy Note:  “The Problem with B.C.’s Clean Growth climate rhetoric” . Author Marc Lee reviews the history of the term “clean growth” and offers his critique, noting that clean growth “promises change without fundamentally disrupting the existing economic and social order.”

Individuals have until August 24 to can email their input to clean.growth@gov.bc.ca .

The new British Columbia government tackles climate change policy and controversies: Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Carbon Tax neutrality

As the smoke from over 100  forest fires enveloped British Columbia during the summer of 2017, a new brand of climate change and environmental policy emerged after June 29, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) government assumed power , thanks to a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party Caucus.  Premier John Horgan appointed Vancouver-area MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government Employees and Service Employees’ Union, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, with a mandate letter which directed Heyman to, among other priorities, re-establish a Climate Leadership team,  set a new 2030 GHG reduction target, expand and increase the existing carbon tax, and “employ every tool available to defend B.C.’s interests in the face of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”  A separate mandate letter to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, directed the Minister to create a roadmap for the province’s energy future, to consider all Liquified Natural Gas proposals in light of the impact on climate change goals, to freeze hydro rates and to  “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market.” In addition, the government “will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Some notes on each of these priorities:

Re the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan The recommendations of the B.C. Climate Leadership Team were ignored by the Liberal government when delivered in 2016.  In mid-September 2017, the reasons for that became clear, as reported by the National Observer , DeSmog Canada, Rabble.ca and Energy Mix . According to the National Observer,  “provincial officials travelled to Calgary to hold five rounds of secret meetings over three months in the boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Representatives from Alberta-based oil giants Encana and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) are shown on the list of participants meeting with B.C.’s ministry of natural gas development.”  In the article for DeSmog Canada, Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker state that the Climate Leadership process was a stunning example of institutional corruption: “what can only now be characterized as a pretend consultation process was acted out publicly….  The whole charade also represents an abuse of the climate leadership team’s time and a mockery of B.C.’s claims to leadership during the Paris climate talks, not to mention a tremendous waste of public resources.”  The documents underlying the revelations were obtained under Freedom of Information requests by Corporate Mapping Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Shannon Daub is Associate Director.

Re the  Carbon Tax:  The Budget Update released on September 11 states: “The Province will act to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the carbon tax rate on April 1, 2018 by $5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, while increasing the climate action tax credit to support low and middle income families. The requirement for the carbon tax to be revenue-neutral is eliminated so carbon tax revenues can support families and fund green initiatives that help us address our climate action commitments.” For context, see “B.C. overturns carbon tax revenue-neutrality”  (Sept. 22) by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions;  for reaction, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. or the Pembina Institute .

Re the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline:  On October 2, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal  is scheduled to start the longest hearing in its history, for the consolidated challenges to the National Energy Board and Federal Cabinet approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project.  The government has applied for intervenor status, and in August  hired environmental lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice  Thomas Berger as an external legal advisor on the matter.  West Coast Environmental Law blogged, “See you in court, Kinder Morgan” , which provides a thorough summary of the 17 cases against the TransMountain expansion; WCEL has also published a Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from Kinder Morgan, which goes into the legal arguments in more detail.  The NEB website provides all official regulatory documents. Ecojustice is also involved in the complex court challenge.

Re the Site C Dam:  In early August, the B.C. government announced a review of the Site C project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.  The Preliminary Inquiry Report was released on September 20,  calling for more information before passing judgement on whether BC Hydro should complete the project. The Inquiry Panel also finds “a reasonable estimate of the cost to terminate the project and remediate the site” would be $1.1 billion, based on the figures provided by BC Hydro and Deloitte consultants. The Inquiry report is  summarized by  CBC . Next steps:  a series of round-the-province hearings and final recommendations to government to be released in a final report on November 1.

After years of protests about Site C, evidence against it seems to be piling up. A series of reports from the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, begun in 2016, have addressed the range of issues involved in the controversial project : First Nations issues; environmental impacts; regulatory process; greenhouse gas emissions; and economics.  In April, an overview summary of these reports appeared  in Policy Options as  “Site C: It’s not too late to hit Pause”,  stating that Site C is “neither the greenest nor the cheapest option, and makes a mockery of Indigenous Rights in the process.”   On the issue of Indigenous Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for a halt on construction in August, pending a full review of how Site C will affects Indigenous land.

If Site C is a good project, it’s time for Trudeau to trot out the evidence” in  iPolitics (Sept. 17), calls Site C “an acid test for Trudeau’s promise of evidence-based policy” and an environmental and economic disaster in the making.  The iPolitics article summarizes the findings of a submission to the BC Utilities Commission review by Robert McCullough, who concluded that BC Hydro electricity demand forecasts overestimate demand by 30%, that its cost overruns on the project will likely hit $1.7 to $4.3 billion, and that wind and geothermal are cleaner alternatives to the project. McCullough’s conclusions were partly based on his review of the technical report by Deloitte LLP, commissioned by the Inquiry.

 

Carbon Pricing now covering 13% of global GHG emissions; Canadian and U.S. developments

The World Bank released  the State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 report on October 18,  which  measures the growing momentum of carbon markets: in 2016, 40 national jurisdictions and over 20 cities, states, and regions are putting a price on carbon, including seven out of 10 of the world’s largest economies.  About 13 percent of global GHG emissions are now covered by carbon pricing initiatives.  Drawing on new economic modelling, the report also predicts that this coverage could increase by the largest leap ever in 2017, to between 20 – 25 percent,  if the Chinese national Emissions Trading System (ETS) is implemented in 2017 as planned .

Carbon pricing in Canada continues to draw opinion and reaction, including  from Toby Sanger, a Senior Economist at CUPE and  a member of the Federal Sustainable Development Advisory Council, who reiterates a call for Just Transition and equity considerations in “How to offset the hardship of carbon pricing”  in the Ottawa Citizen (Oct. 6) . Andrew Gage at West Coast Environmental Law (Oct. 17) asks important questions about the price levels, scope, and timing of the national carbon price proposals currently under consideration  in “Will Canada’s national carbon price clean up our climate mess?” . His blog includes consideration of the impact  on B.C., and sends a message for  Saskatchewan: “So suck it up, Mr. Wall – it’s time to pay the carbon price and get on board with a national plan to deal with Canada’s climate mess”.   And a blog from Keith Brooks at Environmental Defence takes issue from an Ontario viewpoint with a recent Fraser Institute criticism of the Trudeau carbon pricing proposal in “Stupid or Just Lying? What’s up with the Fraser Institute?” (Oct. 13).

In the U.S., all eyes are on the State of Washington, where a ballot question in the November 8 election will decide whether Washington becomes the first state in the U.S. with a  carbon tax.   The Washington Carbon Emission Tax and Sales Tax Reduction question, known as Initiative 732 (I-732)  is modelled after B.C.’s carbon tax, but has divided traditional left and environmental allies, with the Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy and the Washington District Labor Council opposed to the initiative, and the Sierra Club and others taking a “do not support” position.   For background, see the excellent overview (with links) at Ballotpedia, or “How a tax on carbon has divided Northwest climate activists” in the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 13) .

Proposals for carbon pricing designs:    A new policy brief released by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)  in Waterloo, Ontario  proposes  a carbon-fee-and-dividend (CFD) program , which has been advocated by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  How the United States Can Do Much More on Climate and Jobs  envisions a federal program which would  collect a carbon fee from coal, oil and natural gas producers and importers, and distribute  all the revenue (after administrative costs) directly to American households in equal per capita monthly dividends.   To address fears of carbon leakage, the  program would include a border adjustment,  authorizing  a special duty on imports from countries lacking equivalent carbon pricing.   The paper concludes with arguments as to why this is the most likely- to- succeed political option.

Another U.S. discussion paper, from Resources for the Future,  Adding Quantity Certainty to a Carbon Tax, defines and discusses  the multitude of design elements for a Tax Adjustment Mechanism for Policy Pre-Commitment (TAMPP) –  which would adjust the tax rate of a carbon tax  at intermediate benchmark points if emissions reductions deviate sufficiently to threaten the long-term targets . The paper argues that the approach should be rule-based with a clear and transparent adjustment process to reduce unnecessary uncertainty for investment.