Ontario Environmental Commissioner report falls on deaf ears as Ford government slashes energy efficiency programs,attacks carbon pricing (again)

ECO 2019 health happy prosperous Ontario coverA Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  is the final report of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, released on March 27. The report documents the province’s energy use, argues for the value of energy conservation, and makes recommendations:  for improving utility conservation programs and energy efficiency programs for homeowners, and for urban planning policies to promote greater population density in “compact, complete communities” with jobs, transit and housing. The official summary of the report is here  ; a summary  was published by The National Observer on March 27.

This is the final report of the Environmental Commissioner because the ECO Office  has fallen to the pro-business agenda of the Doug Ford government: after April 1, it no  longer acts as an independent agency reporting directly to the Legislature, but will be merged into the Office of the Auditor General. The Commissioner has been critical of government policies – for example,  in the  annual Greenhouse Gas Reduction Progress Report for 2018, Climate Action in Ontario: What’s next? (September 2018).  With the 2019 Energy Conservation Progress report,  The Happy Health report , she states that current government policies encourage the use of fossil fuels in the province and will result in higher energy costs for consumers, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and increased air pollution, with associated adverse health impacts.

The “Government of the People” slashes energy efficiency, promotes P3’s: Despite the blunt criticism and recommendations of the Environment Commissioner (and many others), the Ford government continues to implement its “pro-business” agenda.  It is planning cancellations to consumer energy efficiency programs, as reported by  The  National Observer on March 20, “Exclusive: Doug Ford’s government slashing programs designed to save energy in buildings”  (March 20) and in “Ontario Slashes Energy Efficiency Programs, Delays Promise to Cut Hydro Rates”  in the Energy Mix  (March 25), which summarizes the Globe and Mail article, “Ontario Pulls the plug on energy conservation programs”  (subscription required).  A day later, the Globe and Mail said the cutbacks will include “subsidies for modern lighting, such as LED bulbs, more efficient air conditioners and furnaces, and upgrades to commercial refrigeration equipment. The government will also centralize the delivery of eight programs aimed at businesses, low-income seniors, and First Nations communities…”

On March 19, the government posted “Ontario Moving to Increase Innovation and Competition in Infrastructure Market” (March 19) , stating that it is  “ working for the people to make the province a leading destination for investment and job creation by increasing innovation and competition in its public-private partnership (P3) market.” This will include action to “Open P3 projects to greater innovation by making output specifications less prescriptive and rebalancing the Infrastructure Ontario bid evaluation criteria to better reward design innovation.”  Incidentally, the Ontario’s government is also willing to take credit for  federal infrastructure programs: as described in the March 12 press release, Ontario Launches $30 Billion Infrastructure Funding Program . In fact, the $30 billion refers to combined federal, provincial, and local funding  over the next 10 years through the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. The provincial share is a maximum of 33% .

And finally, the Ford government continues its attacks on carbon pricing:  A March 25 press release, “Ontario closes the book on cap and trade carbon tax era”  announces that “the  total compensation amount is $5,090,000 for a total of 27 participants” as a result of the the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018 (Oct. 2018) .  The press release continues: “But in one week, the federal government will impose a brand-new job-killing carbon tax, punishing the hardworking people of Ontario… Our government remains part of a growing coalition of provinces across Canada that oppose this cash-grab, which raises the cost of essentials like home heating and gasoline.”   The reality is that as of April 1st, the federal carbon pricing backstop will take effect in Ontario and the three other provinces that failed to design their own carbon pricing system under the Pan-Canadian Framework  — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Ecofiscal-Commission-10-Myths-about-Carbon-Pricing-Infographic-vertical-1.jpgThe EcoFiscal Commission is the latest to defend carbon pricing, with 10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada – saying “Myths and misleading statements, however, continue to damage the debate over carbon pricing. A debate based on poor information does a disservice to Canadians….this new report will improve the quality of the debate by drawing on the best available evidence to debunk ten common myths. The report aims to serve as a resource for Canadians who want to learn what the evidence says about carbon pricing and its impacts on emissions, the economy, affordability, and jobs.”

The constitutional challenge to the carbon backstop is awaiting the court’s decision in Saskatchewan, and in Ontario, the court case will begin in late April. All related court documents are here .  Also in April,  the Ontario government releases its budget on the 11th.

Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.

 

With an election coming, updates on Alberta energy policy

pembina energy alberta 2019With a provincial election looming large in Alberta, the Pembina Institute released a new publication, Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta, on March 8,  with  this introduction: “Like most Albertans, we want to see the responsible development of oil and natural gas. The province’s policy and regulatory environment must ensure that our resources are produced in a manner that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. … Alberta’s future as an energy provider is directly linked to an ability to demonstrate a demand for its products in a decarbonizing world. With the right policies, Alberta can be competitive, attract investment, spur innovation and remain a supplier of choice in the global energy market.”  The 17-page document, intended to reach across political partisan thinking, continues by outlining 23 policy recommendations “to unleash innovative technologies, deploy renewables, promote energy efficiency, continue greening our fossil fuel industries, and reduce climate pollution.”

The Alberta government itself is active in getting out its story about its energy policies.  Most recently, the Alberta Climate Leadership Progress Report  was released in March 2019, documenting the fiscal year of April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 –  the first year Alberta collected a carbon levy.  The report states that a total of $1.19 billion of carbon revenue was invested back into the economy that year, and a press release of March 7  catalogues the impacts, including:

  • Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) investments have supported more than 5,000 jobs in 2017-18. CLP commitments, such as the Green Line in Calgary, will support a further 20,000 jobs in the coming years.
  • Combining 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years, a total of $978 million in rebates has made life better and more affordable for lower- and middle-income Albertans.
  • The solar industry in Alberta has grown by more than 800 per cent…. About 3,100 solar installations have been completed across the province.
  • Alberta is forecast to cut emissions by more than 50 megatonnes in 2030.

Further press releases from the government :

“Alberta solar on the rise“: (Feb. 15) announced a new contract for  solar electricity with Canadian Solar,  to run from 2021 to 2041,  at an average price of 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, sufficient  to supply approximately 55 per cent of the government’s annual electricity needs while creating jobs in Southern Alberta.

Premier’s plan unlocks $2-billion energy investment” (Feb. 20) announced that the province will provide up to $80 million in royalty credits, funded through the Petrochemicals Diversification Program , to support phase one of the a Methanol production project by Nauticol Energy  . Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020, with a commercial operational date set for 2022; the government states that the project will create “as many as 15,500 construction jobs and an additional 1,000 permanent jobs.”

The Alberta Community Transit Fund announced a program which will provides $215 million over 4 years .  The press release lists 33  municipal projects awarded funding  on March 7, 2019.

Economists debate decarbonization: optimistic and pessimistic scenarios

debate forum , Is Green Growth Possible? was hosted by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in December, consisting of papers by  economists debating whether catastrophic global warming can be stopped while maintaining current levels of economic growth. The arguments are summarized  for the non-economist in “The Case for ‘conditional optimism’ on climate change” by David Roberts in Vox (Dec. 31) .  Economists may be interested in the full papers, which  include “The Road to ‘Hothouse Earth’ is Paved with Good Intentions” and “Why Green Growth is an Illusion”, both by Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm.  The authors conclude that  “..  The world’s current economies are not capable of the emission reductions required to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. If world leaders insist on maintaining historical rates of economic growth, and there are no step-change advances in technology, hitting that target requires a rate of reduction in carbon intensity for which there is simply no precedent. Despite all the recent hype about decoupling, there’s no historical evidence that current economies are decoupling at anything close to the rate required…. Without a concerted (global) policy shift to deep decarbonization, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, structural change in production, consumption, and transportation, and a transformation of finance, … the decoupling will not even come close to what is needed.”

The Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change and the Economy”  by  Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai summarizes and analyzes the October 2018 IPCC report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C. ,  finding it overly optimistic about global productivity growth and fossil fuel energy use, and reiterating the argument that politics are holding back climate change solutions. They conclude that “a big mitigation push, perhaps financed by carbon taxes and/or reductions in subsidies, is possible macroeconomically even if the link between energy use and output is not severed. This, however, would require considerable modifications of countries’ macroeconomic arrangements. Needless to say, military establishments and recipients of energy subsidies wield political clout. Fossil fuel producers have at least as much. Whether national preferences will permit big shifts in the use of economic resources is the key question.”

Finally, in “Conditional Optimism: Economic Perspectives on Deep Decarbonization”, author Michael Grubb  takes issue with Schröder and Storm, saying that their papers rely on historical data and rates of change, and thus are characterized by a “pessimism about our ability to change what matters fast enough. ” Grubb states that this “may  be emblematic of a growing trend in energy-climate economics, of what we might term historical futures analysis.”  He lays out a  technical economic critique and suggests four fundamental principles for his own “conditional optimism”, which relies on analysis based on the rate of displacement of carbon intensive energy supply by the growth of alternate sources.

Oil Sands update: Trans Mountain will undergo new NEB Review – but watch out for the new Frontier mine

On September 21, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources announced that the federal government has begun its path forward after the Court of Appeal decision on August 30 which stopped the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  The press release states:    “we have instructed the National Energy Board (NEB) to reconsider its recommendations, taking into account the effects of project-related marine shipping. The NEB will be required to complete a thorough and prompt review and deliver its report within 22 weeks.”… and “…the NEB will provide participant funding so that the views of Indigenous groups are well represented in the Board’s consideration of marine issues.” The National Energy Board website provides official news of the new Order in Council here

A CBC report on September 21 summarizes the government action and reactions:  “Ottawa gives pipeline regulator 22 weeks to review Trans Mountain expansion project” ; in it,  the Minister  promises a further announcement on improved consultations with First Nations (one of the two grounds cited by the Court of Appeal for quashing the project).

Other reactions:

Although her office hasn’t released an official statement, Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley has taken a hard line in media interviews,  as reported by  CBC on Sept 21) :  “We will not tolerate legal game playing,”… “And should it start to appear that game playing is working, we will hold Ottawa’s feet to the fire.”

From federal Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer: “Ottawa needs ‘special representative’ to consult Indigenous groups and save Trans Mountain, says Scheer” (Sept. 24);  From B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, a press release limited to cautious acknowledgement; and from Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as quoted in The Straight (Sept. 25) : it would be “a win-win-win” to move the terminal from Burnaby to Delta, thus avoiding concerns about tanker traffic in the sensitive Burrard Inlet (but not addressing any concerns to “keep it in the ground”).

West Coast Environmental Law has written a thorough summary of the August Court of Appeal decision , and suggested questions for the coming review.  Ottawa is also facing a call from Washington State for  improved oil spill protocols for the part of the Trans Mountain pipeline which passes through the Puget Sound, according to the National Observer  (Sept 25).

“Colossal” new oil sands mine:  But as all eyes are on the progress of this Trans Mountain review, another enormous oil sands project is under consideration.  “Hearings begin today into a $20-billion oilsands mine that’s even bigger than the massive Fort Hills”  in The Financial Post (Sept. 24), reporting the on a five-week, joint-review panel regulatory hearing by Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Alberta Energy Regulator into the development of the Frontier oilsands mine by Teck Resources.   The Narwhal analysis describes the Frontier mine as “ a colossal undertaking that relies on ‘relentless’ growth in world oil demand at a time of global climate precarity”.  Read “One of the largest oilsands mines ever proposed advances to public hearings” from The Narwhal for background and discussion of the potential impact, including the economic arguments, for this new development.