By Trevor Busch
While Alberta’s NDP government has forged ahead with their own version of a carbon tax, the issue was never far away from the hearts and minds of federal legislators who continued to weigh the pros and cons of the idea throughout the spring session of Parliament.
Bow River MP Martin Shields, who has a finger more firmly on the pulse of environmental issues in Ottawa than some by virtue of his position on the Environmental Committee, dislikes the often politically-charged term of ‘climate change’.
“The carbon tax has drawn a lot of heat in discussion. This word ‘climate change’, I’ve often said — because I’m on the Environmental Committee — take that word and set it over there, because everybody has a different definition of what it is,” said Shields.
“Leave it sit over there, what do we want to deal with? When it comes to carbon tax, nobody agrees what is the worst scenario, and what is best of the worst scenario. If you’re going to take money, turn it into innovation within those sectors that you’re saying are creating the difficulties — but if you’re going to tax this, then use those industries that you’re saying are creating a problem, that money, in a lot of cases, the technology is already available.”
Shields is a proponent of using carbon tax revenues to allow industries to enhance and adapt their operations to more environmentally-friendly and efficient production and practices.
“They know the technologies, but can’t afford to implement them. If you take that carbon tax, work with them lessening that greenhouse gas effect, we could do it. If you can identify what your issue is, then let’s take that tax money and turn it into innovation,” said Shields.
“And if we don’t already have it, let’s create the science that can get it. And I think that makes sense. Let’s get carbon neutral. So how do you adapt? That’s where I come from, and I think there has been a lot of discussion this session in Parliament about carbon taxes, and where the government is going.”
Using the example of the coal industry, and citing research currently underway in Saskatchewan, Shields sees industries often marked with the brush stroke of “dirty” as potential growth areas for funds raised through a carbon-tax regime.
“We live over some of the best coal in the world, as a fossil fuel. The technologies that they’ve developing in Saskatchewan — the Boundary Bay project — to clean that up is good stuff,” said Shields.
“So why couldn’t we be leaders in the world of still using coal, but using it in way that’s carbon neutral, and streaming off the C02 to be used for things that it’s good for?”
Shields predicts oil is likely to top $60 per barrel by 2017, but is unlikely — at least in the near future — to reach triple-digit proportions.
“It’s a tough one with the economic state that the province is in. We’re back at $50 per barrel oil, we’ll probably be at $60 per barrel in six to eight months. The glut is going to decrease in the world, we’ve got some Third World countries like Nigeria and Venezuela, we’re not sure what’s going to happen in those countries, and the Middle East is always explosive. We won’t be back to $100 (per barrel), we won’t go there,” said Shields.
“And I don’t think the oil industry necessarily wants to go there either. When it’s that hot, and you get efficiencies, they would prefer not to go to an overheated market. Do I support the concept of getting Alberta’s oil and gas to tidewater? Absolutely. The Americans are our biggest trade partner, they’re going to use oil and gas resources for 50 years.”
While alternative energy sources can be looked at to supplement large-scale power generation in the province, Shields asserts it is still largely implausible as a replacement for fossil fuels considering the costs involved, such as $700,000 for a recent Vulcan solar power generation project.
“Even that amount of money, and it only produces enough energy for two houses,” said Shields.
“Solar has a long way to go, and then how much greenhouse gas is produced to make that stuff? How much mercury? There’s a lot of environmental pieces involved. For example the big windmill blades that you see. It takes 200 tons of coal to make enough steel for one blade. Who’s making those blades? They’re not being made in Canada. Somebody is taking a lot of coal out of the ground to make steel. They’re using more coal than ever in Germany.”
In his committee experience, Shields admits the use of adjectives and creative language to advance an environmental position can often muddy the waters for those involved.
“We hear guys talk about ‘sound science’, the ‘right science’, the ‘true science’.”