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Canada: The environment was not a winning issue on this campaign trail

Gary Mason, Globe & Mail
It may be some time before we again see a political leader in Canada brave enough to build a campaign platform around saving the environment.

The world economic crisis that may take a few years to fix has something to do with that. But so, too, does the outcome of last night’s federal election, which saw the Conservatives returned to power, partly on the back of Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s muddled message on the environment.

… So what’s going on? Has the momentum and sense of urgency that the save-the-planet movement was building in Canada been lost?

While many of the most respected climate-change scientists in the world believe taxing carbon is one of the surest and most effective ways to attack rising emissions, it would appear to be a zero-sum game for politicians trying to sell it. Both Mr. Campbell’s and Mr. Dion’s carbon-tax policies are designed to be revenue-neutral – meaning the tax would have no impact on a person’s pocketbook because it would be offset by income-tax cuts and rebates.

But people don’t believe it. It’s like listening to politicians say they will never break a campaign promise. Public skepticism is legitimate.

Second, solutions to climate change are often complex and not easily explained. Mr. Dion had trouble explaining his Green Shift himself sometimes, even in French, and if a politician doesn’t sound convincing trying to sell a policy that includes a tax – even if it’s one designed to help save mankind – opponents will exploit it and the electorate will say come back when you’ve thought this thing through a little.

People have to be convinced it’s worth the price.

Despite last night’s result, I still think Mr. Dion’s desire to build an economy for the 21st century centred on energy independence and becoming a leader in green technology is precisely what Canada needs
(15 October 2008)

Climate, security concerns clash as Canada boosts oil-sands production

Ben German, Earth News
… Now, 40 years after “The Terror of the Tar Sands,” there are new problems and a new plot here. This time, it is a nonfiction thriller about a race against time to ensure steady oil supplies without runaway greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada offers a steady, reliable oil supply at a time of U.S. anxiety about reliance on energy imported from unstable regions. And the oil sands are a massive resource, with about 173 billion barrels recoverable with today’s technology and economics. The buried resources have made Canada the world’s second largest holder of oil reserves, behind Saudi Arabia.

But oil sands production is under attack from environmentalists over rising greenhouse gas emissions, the clearing of boreal forests and other effects. Meanwhile, some U.S. policymakers are stepping up efforts to move away from carbon-heavy fuels.

In response, Canadian officials and the oil and gas industry are trying to buff the sands’ image by highlighting programs to slow and eventually reverse the growth of carbon emissions. They say the sands are getting a bad rap, and they are expanding their public relations to counter it.

“The message we have for the United States is that we are [a] secure, reliable and environmentally responsible producer of oil,” said Ron Stevens, Alberta’s deputy premier and minister of international and intergovernmental relations, in a recent briefing for U.S. journalists in Edmonton.

… Indeed, elections in both countries could affect the amount of pressure on the industry to tackle greenhouse gases more aggressively. Canada’s national elections are today. The platform for the Liberal Party, led by Stéphane Dion, calls for an immediate price on emissions that reaches $40 a ton in the plan’s fourth year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party, which is clinging to a lead in the polls, has attacked the proposal.

Already, a big U.S. energy bill enacted last year says federal agencies cannot buy fuels that are more greenhouse gas-heavy than conventional oil. The provision was aimed largely at coal-based fuels. But it nonetheless alarmed Canadian and industry officials, who fear it will create problems for oil sands.

At the same time, native Canadian tribes, known as First Nations, are contemplating new lawsuits and pledging stepped-up campaigns against oil sands expansion, alleging that the operations are already harming the region’s forests and wildlife.

Environmental groups are also devoting new resources to fighting oil sands, with an arsenal that ranges from shareholder resolutions to direct-action protests.
(14 October 2008)
Contributor CP writes:
the article mentions the Canadian Federal election held 14 Oct. The election returned the Conservatives to power, but without their sought-after majority, which will hobble them. The poor showing of the Liberal Party of Canada in the election yesterday was attributed by many pundits in part to their inability to explain their Carbon Tax ideas. Behind the scenes, the oil sands investors should be breathing easier, having dodged the Carbon Tax bullet. However SU was down almost 14% today on the TSX, go figure.

GAO launches probe into oil, gas drilling

Paul Foy, Associated Press
Congressional investigators are looking at the government’s quick — and legal — approvals for oil and gas drilling in an investigation called long overdue by environmental groups. Industry executives condemn it as political.

Two Government Accountability Office investigators are in Utah as part of a probe into the Bureau of Land Management’s practice of approving some drilling projects without a full environmental study of the consequences.
(8 October 2008)

Gas Prices Dropping: The Good News and Bad News

Bill Powell, Time Magazine
… In the United States, for example, 60% of gasoline consumption is associated with driving to work. As unemployment rises, “you’re going to get a significant downturn in motor fuel consumption,” Novak believes, and that will bring “continued huge [downward] pressure on oil prices.”

The last time global oil prices collapsed on such a scale — in the early 1980s — they stayed down for almost a decade and a half. That’s unlikely to happen this time. Oil demand in countries like China and India may be slowing down right now, but it’s not going away, and economic growth in those countries will, over time, again drive sharp price increases. Gasoline consumption in China is certain to soar over the next 10 years. This year alone up to 25,000 new cars have hit the streets in China every day. And a global financial crisis and economic slump won’t change the fact that nothing denotes middle class status in China as much as ownership of an automobile, which, for the foreseeable future, will be gasoline-powered..

The U.S. consumes 25% of the world’s crude, so for now, America’s economic slump is the key factor driving down oil prices and giving consumers at least some relief in the midst of a harrowing economic storm. But in time, almost certainly, oil demand globally will resume its rise. And prices will follow…
(14 October 2008)

Panel weighs challenges of creating national grid to lower prices, improve transmission
(video and transcript)
Manhattan Institute via E&E TV
One of the key issues facing the electric power industry is transmission vulnerability. Once more renewable energy comes online, transmission issues will likely be even more apparent. Within the electric power community, there is a big push to create one cohesive national grid, as opposed to the current system of regional grids.

Proponents argue that this will help lower the price of electricity and bring more electricity produced by renewable sources to consumers. During today’s E&ETV Event Coverage of a Manhattan Institute-sponsored event, panelists discuss the benefits and challenges associated with creating a national grid.

Participants include Ashley Brown, executive director, Harvard Electricity Policy Group, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Nick Brown, president and chief executive officer, Southwest Power Pool; Ashok Gupta, air and energy program director, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Philip Moeller, commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
(15 October 2008)