B.C.’s Carbon Tax not as advertised

B.C.’s carbon tax is praised nationally and internationally as achieving the best of both worlds: reducing CO2 emissions (GHG) without weakening our economy. I wish that it were true because I take pride in B.C.’s  leadership.

carbon tax

B.C.’s economy has not been hurt, but that’s because our carbon tax is small compared to other taxes.  The carbon tax is only 7 cents per litre compared to 30 cents per litre for fuel tax, excise tax, and GST.

The only way that B.C. meets its target for GHG reduction is by buying debatable carbon credits, not through the carbon tax. Marc Lee, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explains the mischief:

“The B.C. government makes the dubious claim that they met their interim GHG reduction target for 2012 of 6% below 2007 levels. Even then, B.C.’s numbers showed only a 4.4% drop, which, as noted, involves a one-time drop from 2008 to 2009. The claim of 6% reduction is based on the purchase of bogus carbon credits (offsets), making it more fiction than fact.”

The trouble with the purchase of offsets is that there is no detailed reporting on how offsets were used. The whole scheme suffers from “massive credibility problems” after a scathing report by the auditor general.

The 4.4 per cent drop in GHG wasn’t because of the carbon tax. It was because of the Great Recession of 2008 when the world saw a reduction because of slowing economies. Even the U.S. reduced GHG. Between 2007 and 2009, emissions fell by 10 per cent, half of it due to less coal burned, half due to the recession. The Smithsonian magazine says:

“In effect, more than half the carbon decline was due to a drastic drop in the volume of goods consumed by the U.S. population.”

Even the claim that B.C.’s economy was not hurt by the carbon tax is suspect; all of Canada’s economy grew. From 2008 to 2013, B.C.’s economy grew by 12.6 per cent while Canada was 15.1 per cent.

“If we go to constant dollars, there is a very slight edge to B.C. over Canada, but it works out to 0.07% per year in GDP growth rates.”

Our carbon tax could be something worth bragging about if it was significant. With relatively low fuel costs, now would be the time to increase them. If the tax was increased from the current $30/tonne to $200/tonne, fuel prices would only increase to what they were last year.

And since the carbon tax is revenue neutral, there would be no net increase in taxes. Even then, a better idea would be to invest the tax in renewable energy and public transit to lower GHG further. Meanwhile, let’s get real about our carbon tax.

“We need to stop telling fairy tales about the province’s climate action policies and its carbon tax (and I say this as a general supporter of carbon taxes).”

B.C.’s Premier Clark has a lot of explaining to do. Her proposed LNG project will result in the province exceeding targets. Clark’s new plan to be released by December will tell us whether our pride in the carbon tax is warranted.

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Dreams for B.C.’s LNG projects dim

Even when times were relatively good, Premier Clark’s dreams of making B.C. a global energy exporter were slim. Before the collapse of oil prices, when the Asian market for liquefied natural gas was strong, B.C. was a latecomer. Others, such as Australia, were years ahead in securing markets.

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Now the promise of nineteen LNG projects is fading faster than last New Year’s resolutions. Of the nineteen projects, ten have been approved by the National Energy Board for export licenses. Of the ten approved, the B.C. government is hopeful that three will be operating by 2020.

Of the three, some could be in jeopardy. The Globe and Mail recently reported the takeover of BG Group by Shell. ‘That move added to the uncertainty over B.C.’s fledgling LNG industry (April 8, 2015).”

Even before the takeover, BG’s Prince Rupert project was slowing. BG said an investment decision not in the cards until 2017 at the earliest.

And Shell’s attention is straying elsewhere. “Shell said on Wednesday the BG deal would give it enhanced prospects for new projects, particularly in Australia and Brazil,” warned the Globe and Mail.

Hopes were high that another LNG project, Pacific NorthWest LNG, would proceed but Moody’s Investors Service Inc. is throwing cold water on that too. “Moody’s said Pacific NorthWest LNG is the best bet to forge ahead, but cautioned that ‘Petronas appears to be leaning toward deferring this project, as lower oil prices have reduced its cash flow and it directs more investments domestically to Malaysia.’”

Moody’s issued a stark outlook for all of the fledgling North American LNG industry, not just B.C., arguing it doesn’t make economic sense to invest billions when Asian buyers are slowing down their LNG orders.

The B.C. government tried to woo it’s LNG dance partners even as they were getting cold feet. At first the government was going to tax the projects at 7 per cent, but as partners shied away the government cut it to 3 1/2 per cent. Even at seven per cent, Clark’s promise of lower taxes, better public services, and a $100 billion Prosperity Fund was in doubt says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“These claims were unrealistic at the proposed 7 per cent rate from February’s budget. At the lower rate they will be a pittance. First off, companies are able to deduct the full capital costs of their LNG plant investment before they pay the full (now 3.5 per cent) tax.”

That means they would be tax-free for six to twelve years depending on the market price of LNG. Even after paying off capital costs, the returns would be miniscule says CCPA economist Marc Lee. Sure, taxes and royalties together would amount to something. “But compare that combined $300–900 million to BC’s 2014 budget of $44 billion. Drop, meet bucket.”

And that calculation was made on the assumption of five LNG plants. Yes, B.C. has a balanced budget this year but at the cost of reduced services such as the cuts of 8,500 hours to bus service in Kamloops and $29 million dollars collectively to school districts who have already cut to the bone.