I had a fascinating exchange with the CEO of the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) the other day. I’m investigating the structure of the Trust and some of the projects it has approved for “carbon offsets.” The whole concept of carbon offsets is questionable to begin with, some experts call it the worst kind of “voodoo economics” possible. When cash the strapped public sector is forced by government to give up $25 million every year (money that should be going to schools, hospitals, seniors’ facilities and other public programs) in order to buy these “offsets” I think it’s entirely appropriate to question where that money is going.
As most people should know by now the public money in the PCT is only available to the private sector. Luxury resorts and hotels, greenhouses, Lafarge and Encana have been the recipients of this public money so far. The CEO of the PCT has informed me that there will be another 25 projects announced before the end of June.
In investigating the Encana project that the Trust helped to fund, I came across what I believe are valid questions about whether Encana should have qualified for the trust’s money. Morally and ethically, I struggle with giving public money to a highly profitable company that is also the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in B.C. In fact, while the Trust is giving our tax money to Encana for “reducing” its carbon emissions by 84,000 tonnes over the past three years, Encana’s new processing plant in that same region starting emitting up to an additional 2.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
Aside from this ethical concern, however, I also had technical questions about whether Encana should have qualified for our tax money based on the stated standards of the trust and the regulations established by government. That’s when the CEO made a very interesting challenge to me. He quite forcefully and aggressively asked me if I was calling into question the two validators of the project (KMPG and an engineering firm) and the regulator of the industry (the Oil and Gas Commission). All three of these agencies had certified that the project qualified for our tax money and, therefore, according to the CEO I was supposed to be satisfied and, I guess, feel embarrassed that I was challenging such reputable entities.
My rebuttal to the CEO was to mention the Savings & Loan debacle in the U.S., Enron, the derivatives mess that caused the collapse of the U.S. economy, and the BP disaster. I could have gone on for a very long time listing situation after situation where regulators and validators told legislators everything was rosy when it most definitely was not. There is a long and sordid history of regulators and validators failing to protect the public interest with catastrophic results.
It is my duty to question regulators and third party validators. When legislators fail in this duty, history proves that the public interest is all too often not protected. So, yes, I am and will continue to question KPMG, engineers and the Oil & Gas Commission as well as the Pacific Carbon Trust about their use of public money and whether or not the projects this money supports meets the requirements of law, common sense, and some form of ethical standard.
In the case of Encana getting our tax money for a project that reduces emissions a tiny amount relative to their additional contribution to B.C.’s greenhouse gases, I’m still not convinced that project should have been certified to receive public money — the sign off of the regulators and validators notwithstanding.
Outreach and Communications Coordinator
Bob Simpson, Independent MLA, Cariboo North