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OP/ED: Pacific Carbon Trust - corporate welfare and "greenwashing"

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

By: Jordan Bateman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: that’s what our parents taught us. But what if something is so broken, it can’t be fixed at all?

The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) is broken beyond repair. It sucks millions of dollars out of taxpayers’ pockets every year and deposits them in the wallets of big business, all in the name of carbon neutrality.
It’s time to shut the PCT down.

Set up in 2008, and wholly owned by the provincial government, the PCT sells carbon credits to government agencies, businesses, not-for-profits and individuals looking to be carbon neutral. The PCT then takes that money and buys carbon emission offsets from a variety of sources.

For example, a company that puts in a new boiler and saves 5,000 tonnes of carbon emissions can sell that carbon credit to the PCT. Government agencies then buy that carbon credit to cover, or “off-set” their own carbon emissions.

Put simply: it’s corporate welfare in the name of carbon neutrality. And it’s already cost taxpayers $19.4 million.

Of the 783,816 carbon credits sold by the PCT since 2009, 776,026 came from government and public sector organizations. That’s 99 per cent of all the credits sold. A grand total of 11 credits have been bought by individuals.

School districts across B.C. have paid more than $4.4 million for these carbon credits. That’s public money taken out of classrooms, and ultimately, taxpayer pockets. The University of British Columbia spent another $1.52 million.

Independent MLA Bob Simpson has done a lot of research on the corporate projects funded through the PCT with our tax dollars. It’s not good news.

One example: Encana, an energy company with more than a billion dollars in cash flow, received an undisclosed payment from the PCT in return for “reducing and eliminating flaring, incineration and venting in British Columbia,” according to BC Oil and Gas Commission documents (another PCT client, incidentally). No other details have been released, says Simpson.

It wasn’t just Encana benefitting from tax dollars. Interfor, Canfor, TimberWest, Kruger Products, Sun Peaks, Neucel Pulp, Intrawest and Lafarge have all received PCT money—your tax dollars.

You have to feel bad for Coast Hotels, one of just seven B.C. businesses to buy carbon credits from the PCT. Hopefully their $2,500 didn’t go to any of their competitors, like the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside, the Whistler Westin, Whistler Marriott and Vancouver Four Seasons, all of which received PCT dollars.

Yet, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake and Opposition Leader Adrian Dix are both trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together. They want to fix the PCT, using millions of tax dollars on government greenwashing, by limiting the PCT to investing in public sector carbon reduction projects.

Interestingly, neither the BC Liberal Party nor the BC NDP buy carbon credits from the PCT to offset their own political operations. When it’s tax dollars, it’s okay—but when it’s campaign donations, carbon neutrality falls by the wayside.

Even environmentalists like Mark Jaccard, architect of the BC carbon tax and professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University, and Ben Parfitt, resource policy analyst for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, have written articles criticizing the PCT.

Taxpayers should demand that the Pacific Carbon Trust be immediately scrapped. In an era of deficit budgets and trying to plug the HST funding gap, the BC Government needs to focus on core services and maximize the use of every tax dollar. Government carbon neutrality is a frill we cannot afford—and lining the pockets of corporate greenwashers makes no long-term environmental or fiscal sense.