Assessment of energy issues in the 2008 provincial budget
February 25, 2008
NANAIMO, BC. Last week’s provincial government’s budget represents an important and welcomed shift in government thinking. Like all plans that signal significant changes in direction this one has its strengths and weaknesses.
The strengths include
– Taxing fossil fuels so as to promote conservation and energy efficiency
– Measures such as increasing funding to public transportation, matching the federal government’s energy conservation program, education, and other energy-conservation measures such as retiring older cars, updating provincial buildings, subsidising efficient appliances, etc
– Promoting more renewable sources of power
– Some financial assistance for low-income earners meant to offset higher fuel prices
– Signalling the transportation sector to move toward electricity use and away from fossil fuels
– Promised legislative changes to the B.C. Utilities Commission to move toward the goal of promoting green energy and reducing energy usage
The weaknesses include
– A failure to tax all industries that contribute to greenhouse gases while instead increasing subsidies to these same industries -greatly reducing the impact of the budget’s positive measures
– Promoting additional vehicles on our roads by adding to the highways. Because the transportation sector accounts for over half of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions this decision runs counter to the other measures in this budget.
– A failure to ensure that most of the carbon tax will promote a greener future (instead appears to be intended to continue a reduction in income taxes, mainly benefitting one segment of the population) As a result the value of the carbon tax as a disincentive to fossil fuel use will be significantly reduced.
– Tax relief measures for low income earners will likely not match the increases from the carbon tax, thereby punishing those least able to afford it, unless stronger subsidies are offered to this segment of the population. Possible areas include a much stronger and affordable public transportation infrastructure, stronger subsidies for low-income dwelling updates, and using utility bills to recover the cost of some energy efficiency renovations.
– Encouraging the production of bio-fuels without also mandating that such fuels not come from edible food stocks or land otherwise used to grow food.
– Better using the $440 million ($100/person) “climate action dividend” for measures that actually reduce carbon use such as dedicated cycle paths (such as in the Netherlands).
– Encouraging sprawl through the release of forest land and highway construction
A truly “green” (sustainable energy) budget would improve on the above by
– Making the tax cuts dependent on the degree to which individuals and companies move toward energy sustainability
– Working with municipalities and the federal government in establishing commuter & light rail, streetcars (trams), integrating transportation and modal choices -including rails, ferries, bikes & pedestrians- and reducing sprawl
– Applying the “carbon tax” to all industries and use these revenues and business subsidies to support the emergence of the renewable energy sector rather than a blanket tax reduction.
– Addressing the inequality issues in the budget so as to not punish lower income families and individuals
While the government can be commended for signalling a bold change for the province, more effort needs to be asserted if its laudable goals are to be reached.
353 Seventh St.
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