Alberta

Alberta Takes First Step to Clamp Down on Carbon Emissions

Oilsands emissions

It’s finally happening: after years of stalling by the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta’s new NDP government announced Thursday it will double the province’s meager carbon levy on large emitters by 2017.

Industry and environmentalists alike welcomed the decision, while also saying it doesn’t go far enough. 

Currently, any facility that emits more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year must reduce its emissions by 12 per cent below typical performance or pay $15 per tonne for emissions over the baseline. By 2017, the new framework will require companies to lower emissions by 20 per cent below typical performance, with a $30-per-tonne levy for emissions above that target.

It’s not going to drive the meaningful reductions or give the market incentives that we need,” said Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute.

Did the Alberta NDP Overpromise in Pledge to Spend Money on Public Transit Instead of Carbon Capture?

A single mention in 25 pages — that’s how frequently “public transit” was referenced in the Alberta NDP’s recent election platform.

But the brief mention was couched in a massively ambitious plan to redirect huge subsidies from sketchy carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects to the province’s neglected public transportation system. But that plan might be more complex than the party realized due to contracts with companies nearly ready to put major CCS facilities online.

On an online forum, the NDP made this campaign pledge: “We will end the Progressive Conservative’s costly and ineffective Carbon Capture and Storage experiment and reinvest the 2015/16 component of this project into construction of public transit, which will help reduce families’ transportation costs and reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.”

Transportation is hugely significant contributor to climate change. The sector expected to account for 24 per cent of Canada’s emissions by 2020 according to the most recent Environment Canada projections (second only to the oil and gas sector at 27 per cent). So the availability of public transportation, which means less individual vehicles on the road, can help municipalities deal with growing emissions.

Unfortunately, there are few details as to what the NDP’s plan actually entails.

Would an Oilsands Moratorium Be in Alberta’s Own Self-Interest? This Group of Over 100 Scientists Thinks So

A group of scientists from across North America are calling on the governments of Canada and Alberta to impose a moratorium on future development of the Alberta oilsands.

The recommendation is the result of a consensus document that surveys scientific literature related to the oilsands from across research fields. The clear outcome of the research — as it relates to climate, ecosystems, species protection and indigenous rights — is a need to end oilsands growth, the group states.

As scientists we recognize that no one can speak with authority to all aspects of this complex topic, which is why we came together to synthesize the science from our different fields,” Wendy Palen, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, said.

The group of scientists, which include 12 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, 22 members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, five recipients of the Order of Canada and a Nobel Prize winner, released their consensus position on a website, www.oilsandsmoratorium.org, Wednesday. A ful list of the scientists supporting the moratorium can be found here.

Would You Raise Your Hand for Canada's Oil and Gas Industry?

Raise Your Hand Canada Feature Image

After a rough year of collapsing oil prices and the embarrassing dethroning of Alberta’s longtime Progressive Conservative government, the oil and gas industry could use a win. The latest campaign from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was probably designed to be one.

Alas.

Wildfires Rage Near Oilsands Operations, Raising Climate Questions

Forest fires covering 8,200 hectares of land in northern Alberta continue to burn out of control, spurred on by extremely dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures. The fires have forced the evacuation of hundreds of oilsands workers, the irony of which is not being lost on many  (just check out the reactions to this CBC article).

Climate change during the 21st century is expected to result in more frequent fires in many boreal forests, with severe environmental and economic consequences,” said a 2014 Natural Resources Canada post

About 10 per cent of Canada’s oil output — amounting to about 233,000 barrels a day — has been shut down since Monday, May 25, due to the fires. The Bank of America Merril Lynch warned in a research report that if wildfire disruptions persist, there could be a 0.1 to 0.3 per cent hit to second-quarter annualized growth.

An increase in the number of forest fires is likely to make one of the world’s most costly fossil fuel sources even more labour intensive and expensive.

Alberta’s First NDP Climate Victory May Have Nothing to Do With the Oilsands and Everything to Do With Coal

Back in March when the prospect of a majority NDP government in Alberta was still a twinkle in Rachel Notley’s eye, the to-be premier introduced a motion to phase out the province’s use of coal for electricity by 2030.

The evidence is clear that it is time to phase out coal powered electricity in the province in Alberta. Coal is one of the single largest pollutants in Alberta. It costs our health care millions of dollars every year and is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions,” she said, urging then premier Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservative party to “do the right thing.”

So now that Notley has taken the reins, will she follow through with her own ambitious plan?

Alberta Election Was a Referendum on Entitlement

It was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of entitlement.

On Monday, the day before the Alberta election, the province’s four largest newspapers — the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun — endorsed the Progressive Conservatives.

Now, newspapers endorsing parties is nothing new, but every major newspaper in Alberta being owned by one company is new. (Postmedia acquired the Calgary Sun and Edmonton Sun this March when the Competition Bureau signed off on the purchase.)

What else appears to be new is that the Edmonton Journal (which did not endorse in 2012) was asked to endorse not by local management, but by head office in Toronto, according to editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand.

Asked by Canadaland who chose to endorse the PCs, Goodhand responded: “The owners of the Journal made that call.”

Alberta's Carbon Levy: A Primer

Carbon Pricing Alberta. Image oilsands emissions by Kris Krug

It may come as a surprise to some that Alberta pioneered carbon pricing — not just in Canada, but for all of North America.

That’s right: the province with the fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada was the first place on the continent to put “polluter pays” legislation into place almost exactly eight years ago.

Even back in 2007, Alberta was getting pressure over its environmental management, particularly of the oilsands. This may have been in response to that,” Matt Horne, associate B.C. director at the Pembina Institute, told DeSmog Canada.

Has Stephen Harper Helped or Hindered The Oil Industry?

At an estimated 2,700 litres, the bunker fuel spill in English Bay was relatively small — yet the stakes of that spill couldn’t be much higher.

With Enbridge and Kinder Morgan both hoping to build oil pipelines to B.C., which would significantly increase oil tanker traffic in the province’s inside coastal waters, a dramatically mishandled marine oil spill raises all sorts of questions — questions the federal government does not appear well-positioned to answer, despite its aggressive push for West Coast oil exports.

Obviously, from the oil industry’s perspective, you couldn’t have picked a worse place to have an oil spill,” Jim Stanford, economist at Unifor and founder of the Progressive Economics Forum, told DeSmog Canada.

While the federal government insisted its response was “world-class,” a former commander of the shuttered Kits Coast Guard station blamed the six-hour delay in even deploying a boom to contain the oil on the closure of that station in 2013 — a move that is reported to have saved the federal government at estimated $700,000 a year.

The English Bay spill, beyond being a systemic failure, has been a total PR disaster.

Alberta's Access to Information Problems Absent from Campaign Trail

This article originally appeared on Sean Holman's Unknowable Country.

Alberta’s freedom of information law is weak and underused. Yet, in an election where one of the most important issues is government accountability, there has been surprisingly little discussion about reforming that law — despite a proposed policy change that could further threaten the public’s right to know.

Alberta has historically been a stranger to freedom of information legislation, which allows access to internal government documents. That access is important because the public can then find out things the officials they elect and the institutions they pay for don’t want them to find out.

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