Canada to the Rescue (of the Coal Industry)

Canada to the Rescue (of the Coal Industry)
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Canada’s science minister, Gary Goodyear, was in Washington recently talking up how Canadian research may usher in a era of “clean coal”. Ottawa is shoveling $1 billion for research related to the dubious concept of “carbon capture and storage”, targeted largely at the Alberta tar sands.

Goodyear implied that the Canadian brain trust could develop technologies to keep the carbon party going on both sides of the border without any of those nasty emissions.

Is this good news? Hardly.

It’s more like a drunk trying to talk a drinking buddy out of going to his first AA meeting.

America under the Obama Administration has been making the first bold steps to getting serious about climate change. A cap and trade bill is moving through Congress. The EPA listed carbon as a “pollutant” opening the door for regulation under the Clean Air Act. Obama has pledged billions in tax dollars and incentive to double renewable energy production in US in the next three years.

Obama has also dedicated 3% of American GDP to research – the highest level of government investment in science in American history. There is a constellation of green energy research programs being nurtured in the US designed to make America a green technology leader.

Obama’s motivations are clear: “The nation that leads the world in 21st-century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st-century global economy,” the President said. “America can and must be that nation.”

Meanwhile Canada is still on the barstool wondering where her old pal went. Carbon emissions in Canada ballooned by 4% in 2007 alone and are now 26% above 1990 levels, with no end in site. Rather than deal with a root cause of extraction and consumption, Canada has instead committed to the technological pipe dream of carbon capture that has already been rejected by experts as a solution to tar sands emissions.

Of course if the US brings in meaningful cap and trade legislation, it would be a disaster for the already marginal economics of the oil sands. Canada either wants the US to continue ignoring the problem, or make sure that whatever climate bill is passed gives Canada’s tar sands a pass.

As for the $1 billion carbon capture research fund, maybe it makes more sense to ask what else that money could have been used for. Harper has slashed science spending by $148 million. Many researchers complain that what support does exist has largely been earmarked for bricks and mortar rather than pure research.

Renewable energy producers are exasperated by the lack of support by the Harper government. America now spends four times more per capita on renewable energy research than Canada.

What support does exist for so-called “green energy” has largely been sucked up by carbon capture for the oil sands. Even with an additional $1 billion of Alberta taxpayer’s money thrown at funding this boondoggle, the private sector is not interested.

Nine out of twenty oil companies picked by the Alberta government to access the massive $2 billion fund to develop this dubious technology have since pulled their bids.

Such tar sands heavy weights as Suncor, Syncrude, ConocoPhillips and StatoilHydro decided this “solution” wasn’t worth their investment dollars, even if the taxpayer was shelling out billions. Last month Shell reneged on a pledge to reduce carbon emissions at a $13 billion tar sands expansion to those of conventional oil – exposing themselves to litigation that might overturn the approval for the project.

Carbon capture at the tar sands has been a bust both economically and scientifically. It is therefore no surprise that the hapless Minister Goodyear is talking up the idea south of the border. Canada obviously hopes this red herring will lead to a sweetheart deal for the tar sands, or even dissuade the US from kicking the carbon habit. 

If America walks away from fossil fuels, Canada will finally have to go on the wagon as well. And no drunk wants to lose their buddy to a 12-step program.

This month we’re giving away FREE copies Anthony Barnosky’s Heatstroke: nature in an age of global warming.

Go here to find out more details about DeSmogBlog’s monthly book give-away.

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