STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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$2 Billion to help Political Climate

Posted by mhudema on July 11, 2008

Will cash improve political climate?
The Edmonton Journal

As the old hockey adage goes, the best defence is a good offence — which goes a long way to explain the $2-billion cash outlay by the Alberta government this week to reduce greenhouse gases.

Premier Ed Stelmach says he wants to kickstart construction of a carbon-capture-and-storage network to bury carbon dioxide produced in oilsands production and in coal-fired electricity generation.

It’s a welcome move for several reasons.

Until this week, the province’s strategy to fight the growing chorus of environmental critics — especially those south of the border — consisted mainly of a $25-million public relations campaign to re-brand the oilsands as clean energy.

That was clearly an inadequate response, even for a government that has been dismissive of perceived negative environmental impacts.

Now at last there’s also some concrete big-bucks policy to take to Washington, where there is growing pressure to take climate change more seriously and to limit U.S. use of so-called “dirty oil” from the oilsands.

The $2-billion outlay is also big enough to pique the interest of oil companies and the coal industry, which need to come up with their share of the cash for some long-talked-about projects.

Partnerships with industry are critical for a project of this magnitude.

A carbon-sequestration network will be expensive. While taxpayers are willing to make a substantial contribution, energy industry also has a key role to play.

Stelmach says he wants to fund about five major carbon-capture projects with the aim of sequestering five million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2015.

Oil companies will take their proposals to the Carbon Capture and Storage Development Council set up by Stelmach this spring. The council will announce its choices next January, and its decisions will be key. Carbon capture is very expensive; $2 billion spread over five projects may not go very far without substantial industry support.

It’s true that carbon storage is still relatively untested on a large commercial basis. But that’s exactly why Alberta needs to move ahead, to come up with the next generation of technology to reduce greenhouse gases. The oilsands will be in production for decades to come and we need better way to deal with still rising emissions.

There’s more to be done, of course.

Alberta’s plan won’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions until about 2020. The current long-term goal is only 14 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050. Even Stephen Harper’s plan is more ambitious; British Columbia has passed a law to reduce its emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Still, Stelmach’s $2 billion for carbon storage and $ 2 billion to expand public transit present an opportunity for the premier at next week premiers’ meeting. With that large sum behind him, Stelmach could to take a leadership role on climate change.

Rather than circling the wagons, why not challenge other provinces to make similar commitments?

© The Edmonton Journal 2008

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