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: the year past and the battle over carbon pricing in the year ahead

The Energy Mix Yearbook Review for 2018 is undoubtedly the most thorough and informed review of 2018 climate issues for Canadians.  It compiles its newsletter coverage of 2018 stories and adds context and analysis, as well as a multitude of links to further reading.  The sections of exceptional interest include “Jobs and Just Transition: Renewables and Efficiency Jobs Surge while Fossil Employment Sags “; “Fossils go for Broke”  and “Canada’s Contradiction: Low-Carbon Leader or Perpetual Petro-State?”  .  Other, briefer overviews for Canada include “State of Play 2018”  from EcoJustice, highlighting legal issues;  “ 10 wins for Canadian energy and climate action in 2018: Year in review” with a positive slant from the Pembina Institute (Dec. 20) ; and from the Council of Canadians 2018 in Review: Offshore drilling (December 21),  a chronology from Atlantic Canada.

On December 20, easily overlooked because of the holiday season,  Environment and Climate Change Canada published five separate review reports.  Clean Canada:  Protecting the Environment and Growing our Economy   is a snapshot of Canada’s federal climate action policies and expenditures, and seems intended for a wide popular audience.  Second Annual Synthesis Report regarding the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Action   (French version here )  is a more detailed accounting of the policies and programs by the federal and provincial governments in 2018, organized in chapters relating to carbon pricing, complementary measures (buildings, transportation, electricity, agriculture, etc.); adaptation and resilience; clean technology and innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; federal engagement and partnership with Indigenous people .  2018 Canada’s Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions Projections Report  (French version here ) provides, again,  a policy overview but its main purpose is to continue the series of annual reports (since 2011) of detailed emissions data for economic sector and  geographic region. It also includes emissions projections to 2030 under two different scenarios – (spoiler alert: oil and gas will be Canada’s leading source of emissions, followed by transportation and heavy industry).

Other substantial reports published on December 20 will form the basis for consultations in 2019.  The new draft for the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2019 to 2022 will inform a public consultation until April 2, 2019. (The companion 2018 Progress Report on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy  evaluates the 2016 to 2019 strategy goals and the activities of  41 federal departments and agencies.)

The final Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Design Paper focuses on the liquid fuels regulations, with comments requested by February 1, 2019. The draft regulation is scheduled to be published in 2019 and a final regulation by 2020, bringing to an end a complex consultation process that began in 2016 (summarized by WCR  in January 2018).  The Clean Fuel Standard will apply to the full life cycle of all fuels, gasoline and diesel, aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal, and has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.

And finally, a regulatory proposal relating to the most publicized issue for 2019: carbon pricing.  Next Steps in Implementing the Federal Pollution Pricing System for Large Industry (the “Output Based Pricing System”)  was released on December 20, and carries  a deadline for public comments of February 15, 2019. The Output Based Pricing System registration system went live on November 1, 2018, with reporting and verification requirements starting on January 1, 2019.

The coming battles over Carbon tax in 2019:   As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in late October 2018,  the federal government has not backed down on its determination to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019, despite resistance and constitutional challenges led by the premiers of Saskatchewan and Ontario.  In some provinces – British Columbia , Alberta , Quebec  – established carbon pricing systems continue; in Nova Scotia , Prince Edward Island , Newfoundland and Labrador –  newly approved systems which meet the government’s benchmarks under the Pan-Canadian Framework will begin.   In the other provinces who have opposed the federal plan – Manitoba , Saskatchewan , New Brunswick and Ontario  –  the federal backstop fuel charge will be imposed starting in April 2019, sweetened by a “Climate Action Incentive”,  whereby all carbon revenue collected by the federal government will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  The Annex of the Second Annual Synthesis Report of the Pan-Canadian Framework  provides up to date summaries for the situation in each province.

Public opinion supports the government’s carbon tax actions, though barely, according to polling made public by Global News on January 3 . Based on a November 9 internal poll conducted for the Liberal party, 46 per cent supported and 44 per cent opposed the plan  in Saskatchewan and Manitoba ; in Ontario, 43 per cent were in support and 32 per cent opposed. Nationally, support was at 47 per cent and opposition was at 29 per cent, with women more supportive than men.

Recently, one article appeared in the labour press, supporting carbon pricing:  “Pricing carbon first step to tackling climate change” in CUPE’s Economy at Work newsletter (Jan. 2).  The mainstream press has been far more active, with general support for a carbon tax: for example,  an editorial in  the Globe and Mail newspaper is titled: “ Do you want a carbon tax, or do you want to be lied to? “(Dec. 26) . The editorial is critical of the Ontario government’s Ontario Carbon Trust proposal, about which it states:  “One emerging conservative alternative to carbon pricing is working with business to spur the development of green technology. What that usually means is taxpayers giving subsidies to business.… “Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives ….say they will dish out $400-million on a “Carbon Trust” that will collaborate with industry on emissions cuts. They can rail against carbon pricing all they want; spending taxpayer money has the same effect on pocketbooks as asking consumers to pay more.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce was also widely cited as supporting a carbon tax, to the extent that they issued a press release on December 17 2018, clarifying their position:  “While some of the [media] coverage notes the Chamber’s support for carbon pricing, it neglects to include that the support is contingent upon significant caveats. The report calls for government to take concrete steps to reduce the overall regulatory burden on businesses in Canada, and to return the revenues from the carbon tax to business to help them lower their carbon emissions and their energy costs.”  The report referred to, outlining the full arguments, is   A Competitive Transition: How smarter climate policy can help Canada lead the way to a low carbon economy, which was published in December 2018.

Take it to the Courts!  Saskatchewan filed its challenge to the constitutionality of the federal price on carbon pollution in April 2018; the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal announced that it will hear the case in February 13 and 14, 2019, and released the lengthly list of intervenors which it has allowed to appear.  Intervenors include the provinces  of Ontario and New Brunswick on the side of Saskatchewan, and the province of British Columbia on the side of the federal government; other intervenors include the Canadian Public Health AssociationEcoJustice, representing the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation; and the Council of Canadians , as part of a  group of seven other civil society groups, including the National Farmers Union and  Climate Justice Saskatoon.

A separate case  was filed by the Government of Ontario and will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in April 2019.  The full list of intervenors, as well as the court filings by the Ontario government, appear at the Court of Appeal website here . British Columbia and New Brunswick have also applied for intervenor status in this case.

How will the courts decide?   “Courts should not have to decide climate change policy” appeared on December 21  in Policy Options,  with a discussion of the carbon pricing cases as well as the recent litigation by Quebec’s ENvironnement JEUnesse . Co-authors Nathalie Chalifour and Jason Maclean  argue that “only a collaborative  approach to policy-making is capable of delivering the kinds of rapid, forward-looking and systemic changes in how industries and societies function that are necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Litigation, by contrast, is necessarily reactive and typically divisive, time-consuming and influenced by the incremental development of legal precedent.”  Regarding the provincial carbon tax challenges, they state that “the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an example par excellence of cooperative federalism.”…. “There’s little doubt that the courts will confirm the federal government’s jurisdictional authority to regulate GHG emissions. They may even decide that the Constitution obliges the government to take more serious climate action.”

A complex road is ahead, as indicated by a C.D. Howe Institute Memo published in October 2018:   “Federal carbon-pricing backstop is new constitutional territory”.

 

Updating the political battle of carbon pricing in Canada

Justin TrudeauOn October 23,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will hold its resolve to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019 – see the press release, “Government of Canada Putting a price on pollution”   (Oct. 23).  Key to the plan: the Climate Action Incentive, whereby all carbon revenue will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  David Roberts of Vox hits the nail on the head with  “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is betting his reelection on a carbon tax” (Oct. 24) , stating,  “It’s a thoughtful plan, remarkably simple, transparent, and economically sound for something cooked up in a politically fraught context. If it’s put into place (and stays in place), it would vault Canada to the head of the international pack on climate policy.”

Reaction from the Canadian mainstream media: From the Globe and Mail, an Editorial:  “For the Liberals, a spoonful of sugar helps the carbon tax go down” ;  “Arguments against the carbon tax boil down to a desire to do nothing” (Oct. 24)   by Campbell Clark ; “Carbon tax vs. climate change will be an epic contest” by John Ibbitson  and “Trudeau’s carbon tax rebate is smart – but complicated”  by Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission . From Andrew Coyne in the National Post: “Liberals’ carbon tax plan has its faults — but who has a better option?”  and from Chris Hall of the CBC, “How the Liberals hope to escape the ‘Green Shift’ curse in 2019”  (Oct.23)  .

The National Observer provides some detail to the complex calculations of the backstop rebates of the Climate Action Incentive, but the detail is at the government’s webpage, Pricing Pollution: How it will work  which provides links to individual explainers for each province and territory.

Other Responses: Rabble.ca Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada ;  Canadians for Clean Prosperity ;  and the Smart Prosperity Institute , which also provides a compilation of reaction and reports .

There seems to be general agreement that it is politics, not economics, which will determine support for the carbon plan.  Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been making the rounds with other Conservative politicians in Canada to coordinate their messaging and opposition to the federal carbon tax – culminating in the introduction of Bill No. 132—The Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Amendment Act , 2018 in Saskatchewan on October 30, and on October 31, passage of Ontario’s Bill 4, The Cap and Trade Cancellation Act.  The National Observer describes the events of October 31 and summarizes the recent  political dance in “Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer play fast and loose with facts about carbon tax”  . Other press coverage: from the CBC:   “‘The worst tax ever’: Doug Ford and Jason Kenney hold campaign-style rally against carbon levy”  on Oct. 5 ;   “Doug Ford attacks ‘terrible tax’ on carbon alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe” on Oct. 29; and  “Doug Ford meets Andrew Scheer as carbon tax war heats up”  on October 30, describing their meeting in Toronto.  The gist of their arguments:  the carbon tax is a money-grab which will “drive up the price of heating your home”, with Doug Ford stating “It’s just another Trudeau Liberal tax grab. It’s a job-killing, family-hurting tax. ”  After the rebate details were announced on October 23, Ford has added that the promised rebates are “a complete scam”, “trying to buy Canadians with their own money.”   But as iPolitics reported on October 26, “Ford gets his facts wrong while bashing federal carbon tax”  and  “Ford doubles down on falsehoods about federal carbon tax”  .  iPolitics cites the independent analysis of the carbon tax’s impact by  Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer, Ontario financial office cap and tradewhich supports the federal government’s numbers, and differs from Premier Ford’s public statements.  Meanwhile, the Ontario government promises to release their climate plan in November,  according to the Toronto Star   (Oct. 29), and Andrew Scheer also promises a climate plan “in 183 days”.

New climate legislation in Saskatchewan – Prairie Resilience without carbon pricing

On October 30,  the first Bill introduced to the new session of the Saskatchewan legislature was Bill No. 132—The Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Amendment Act, 2018 , which, according to a Regina Leader-Post article , carries on  Bill 95, which was introduced in 2009 by the previous government of Brad Wall .  The government’s press release   states that the new legislation: “provides the regulatory framework for performance standards to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, a provincial technology fund, performance credits and offset credits…. In addition to performance standards and compliance options, these amendments require large emitters to register with the province, provide for administrative efficiencies in governance of the technology fund, and enable associated regulations and standards. ”   The press release carries on the province’s existing climate change strategy from December 2017,  titled Prairie Resilience, which rejects carbon pricing.   saskatchewan Prairie Resilience cover

Saskatchewan introduces climate change legislation as feud with Ottawa continues”   in the National Observer  provides a summary; the “feud” referred to was most recently in the news on October 29,  “Doug Ford attacks ‘terrible tax’ on carbon alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe” .

As yet, the text of the Bill is available only through a two-step process: Bills are listed here , which lists a PDF file “ Progress of Bills 2018 – 2019”  which includes a live link to Bill 132.