The environment loses again
Pit the environment against profit and money will almost always emerge the winner. Nowhere is that more evident than right here in Alberta, Canada’s richest province that is responsible for about half of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Further proof was provided on recently when three industrial giants – TransAlta, Capital Power and Enbridge – announced they are pulling out of Project Pioneer, the provincial government’s carbon capture program, because it didn’t make financial sense.
In short, they’re not willing to pay their share to try to save the environment. It’s like these companies feel they have no moral obligation to be good corporate citizens. A sustainable environment should be part of their business plan, not an afterthought and added expense.
What’s interesting about the announcement, perhaps disappointing would be a better word, is the timing. It comes shortly after the provincial election handed the Progressive Conservatives another majority government, and with the federal government close to finalizing regulations that will allow coal-related projects completed before 2014 to operate without carbon capture.
How convenient for Keephills 3, the coal-fired power plant near Wabamum, co-owned by TransAlta and Capital Power, that came on-stream last September. If this facility can operate freely without its owners having to worry about carbon capture, where’s the incentive to make Pioneer work?
Despite some $778 million in provincial and federal government subsidies, TransAlta says it can’t see a way to make the project work economically. The companies are opting to pay the penalties for emissions rather than cutting them.
That’s a major blow to the Albert government’s plan to cut emissions by 50 megatonnes by 2020, mostly by investing some $2 billion into carbon capture and storage. Pioneer was a key factor in that plan since it would have accounted for about 20 per cent of that reduction target.
The project’s collapse is also a blow to the province’s battered international image and it certainly won’t help Canada’s image either. With the federal government’s reluctance to get tough on polluters, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions aren’t slowing down. This country makes up less than one half of one per cent of the world’s population, yet it’s the world’s eighth largest producer of greenhouses gases.
And now, when the country’s biggest polluter – Alberta – is actually trying to take steps to clean up its act, industry balks because of money. There’s no mention in the recent announcement of how many millions of dollars in profits the three companies have made over the years when they were free to spew contaminants into the air.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the provincial legislature, if anyone bothers to raise the issue. It’s not likely to come from the Conservatives, with their ties to industry, and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, now the opposition leader, has stated she doesn’t believe the science that says humans are contributing to climate change. If neither the ruling party nor the opposition will stand up for the environment, who will?
Smith was absolving industry of its impact in greenhouse gas emissions and blaming individual Albertans, saying it would be much better to have us reduce our energy consumption.
She’s right to a degree, in that individual Albertans could help by reducing our dependence on oil, gas and electricity produced by burning coal. But the reality is, no matter how much individuals reduce consumption, it won’t have much of an impact unless industry buys into the program.
- St. Albert Gazette, a Great West newspaper