Election, part 2: The global energy paradigm IS changing. BC can lead, follow, or obstruct

[Part of a set of four bulletins about land reform and the 2005 BCelection. Shorter versions of these articles appear in the April issueof Lands & People.]

Our modern industrial civilizationdeveloped, depends, and runs on fossil fuels coal, oil, natural gas.The global political and economic drama unfolds on a stage on whichfossil fuels, oil in particular, underlie everything. The most powerfulcorporations arguably the greatest concentration of power ever are themultinational oil companies.

These companies wield greatinfluence notably in Washington, DC, where the strings holding upGeorge Bush and Dick Cheney run directly into the executive offices ofa number of major energy corporations. In British Columbia, companiesengaged in energy production and transmission are major donors to thepresent Liberal government. And energy policies since the Liberals cameto power have been very accommodating to the interests of these samecorporations.

In BC, revenues from oil and gas tenure salesand royalties have overwhelmed forestry revenues. Add in electricitysales and BC’s resource economy, formerly based on timber and fish, isnow an energy economy.

But the global energy paradigm ischanging, drastically. The world is running out of oil. North Americais running out of natural gas. Combustion of fossil fuels isaccelerating global climate change. We are indeed warming up the earthbeyond the point at which life as we know it is sustainable for humanbeings.

Coming to grips with those two fundamental facts adiminishing supply of fossil fuels and an urgent need to reducecombustion of them is humanity’s great challenge at the beginning ofthe 21st century.

British Columbia has three choices. Theprovince can choose to lead in this shift to non-fossil-fuel energyproduction; we can let ourselves be dragged along by greater forces; orwe can stick our collective head in the sand, cater to vestedinterests, and continue doing the things that have propelled the worldto this energy crisis.

The challenge has a number of fronts. Asustainable energy policy for BC includes reducing production of fossilfuels, reducing our individual and collective use of energy, moving tosustainable technologies for energy production, preparing for theeconomic upheaval as the fossil fuel giant tumbles, and as new energyeconomies emerge, and protecting our environment.

Each of thesefronts leads directly to policy and platforms in the BC election. Hereare some questions to confront candidates with.

1. Sustainable Energy Policy

In2005, BC’s energy policy is long on fossil fuels, and short oneverything else sustainable energy, environmental protections, respectfor communities and First Nations. What will be the key parts of your government’s energy policy, if elected? When will you implement it?

2. Reducing production of fossil fuels

Governmentrevenues are increasingly dependent on expansion of fossil fuelproduction, yet to address climate change, pollution, and diminishingglobal supplies, we need to reduce production, not increase it.

Will your government attempt to reduce fossil fuel production in BC? How?

Coalbed methane production is hugely destructive to land and water. As yet, there is no production in BC. Willyour government put a halt to coalbed methane development and promotionbefore it starts? How will you deal with exploration agreements thatare already in place?

Coal-fired electricity generation isthe dirtiest way to generate electricity. Most jurisdictions are movingaway from coal to cleaner energy sources, or are forcing coal plants toclean up. Yet the Liberal government in BC is promoting coal-firedgeneration, with permissible emission levels that rival the worst inNorth America. Will your government stop coal-fired generationbefore it starts? If not, will you insist on a full publicenvironmental assessment for BC’s first coal-fired generation plant?

Do you oppose offshore oil and gas exploration and development? What is your position on the offshore moratorium?

What will you do about the rapid recent expansion in proposed and developing coal mines in BC?

Fossilfuel development is stimulated in BC by a generous royalty structure,numerous tax incentives, royalty credits, road-building projects,flow-through shares, etc. These are all giveaways of a public resourceand public wealth to an industry that is already making obsceneprofits, and needs no subsidies. What will you do about these incentives and programs that encourage more fossil fuel development, not less?

3. Reducing our individual and collective use of energy

Canadiansare profligate users of energy we use more per capita than any othercountry. Much of our industrial, commercial, institutional, residentialand transportation infrastructure is dreadfully inefficient appropriateto a time in which energy was cheap and its environmental impactsunrecognized. What will your government do to reduce consumption, conserve, and use energy more efficiently?

4. Moving to sustainable technologies for energy production

Itis a disgrace that BC has no wind generation, no wave, tide or solarprojects. All around us Washington, Alberta, even the Yukon have windprojects. What will your government do to give wind generation a running start in BC, and other sustainable technologies a foothold?

What is the fiscal and regulatory regime you would implement to stimulate sustainable energy implementation in BC?

5. Energy econonomies in transition

How will you address the contradictory challenges to increase provincial revenues while reducing fossil fuel production?

Aswe move from a provincial economy increasingly dependent on fossil fuelrevenues, to an energy economy based on sustainable technologies, therewill be disruptions among workers and communities, and a need foradjustment in communities, for trained workers, and to buildinfrastructure.

How does your government plan to fund these changing needs?

Willyou implement an energy transition fund. What percent of oil and gasrevenues would you channel into the fund? 20 – 30 40%?

Howwill your government train workers, engineers, etc., to fosterleadership and manufacturing of sustainable energy design andcomponents in BC?

How will your government smooth thetransition for communities? How will you ensure that communities andFirst Nations have a say in energy projects that affect them directly?

6. Protecting our environment

TheLiberal government has streamlined many say gutted environmentalprotections in British Columbia where energy projects are concerned.Regulations have been stripped, self-monitoring has replaced governmentenforcement staff, and is results-based, after -the-fact, rather thanprescriptive. The damage gets done first. Then the company responsiblegets to turn itself in.

The Oil and Gas Commission hasn’t seenan oil and gas project it didn’t like, and measures its success by itsrate of approval of applications – increasingly over the objections ofFirst Nations and communities. What plan do you have for overhauling the Commission’s mandate to include consideration of environmental and cultural impacts?

The Environmental Assessment Acthas reduced assessments to a process that gives intervenors, citizens,communities no formal rights or participation, and in the end, makesapproval a matter of ministerial discretion. What is yourgovernment going to do to give environmental assessments some integrityand clout? How to you propose to make environmental assessmentsresponsive to environmental priorities, and unaffected by governmenteconomic agendas?

Parks are at increasing risk of intrusion by the energy industry drilling under parks, roadbuilding through parks. What will your government do about it?

Theinterplay between energy development, forestry activitie
s, other landand resource uses creates a more complex set of cumulative impacts thanthose attributable directly to a single well, for example. Will your government introduce cumulative impacts assessments?

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