Oilsands research group says it is a 'logical' recipient of carbon tax grants

CALGARY – An environmentalist says that an oilsands research consortium that believes it knows where industry can best improve its environmental practices shouldn’t be considered for grants paid for by carbon taxes.

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace said he disagrees with a suggestion made Tuesday by Dan Wicklum, CEO of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, that it’s a “logical” choice to help Alberta’s NDP government invest in environmental research funding initiatives or partnerships.

“The revenues from the carbon tax should be invested directly in solutions like community-based solar projects and better public transit as well as supporting communities to assist low-income households,” said Stewart.

“The big oil companies that make up COSIA don’t need a public subsidy to invest in the basic research and development required for them to make the transition to a low-carbon world.”

COSIA’s 13 members account for 90 per cent of Canada’s oilsands production. It was formed four years ago to allow members to share technologies aimed at reducing their environmental impact.

The alliance announced in Calgary on Tuesday that its members are spending $111 million this year on shared environmental technologies, taking the total since it was formed to $1.33 billion.

“If I was the government, I would take a look at where emissions are coming from and I would invest disproportionately in those sectors,” Wicklum told reporters.

“I think it’s very logical, both from an organization and focus perspective and from a bang-for-the-buck perspective, and, frankly, an emissions reduction perspective, to stream some of that carbon charge money in some reasonable, transparent way, to some of the companies, COSIA companies, that frankly manage emissions.”

Oilsands sources account for about 70 megatonnes or one-quarter of Alberta’s emissions each year.

Alberta announced last November it will have a wide-based $20-per-tonne carbon levy in place next year, rising to $30 a tonne in 2018.

It says it expects to raise $9.6 billion over the next five years, of which $3.4 billion will be earmarked for large-scale renewable energy, bioenergy and environmental technology projects. Implementation details have yet to be announced.

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, said he’s OK with granting funds to the industry group or even an individual oil company if it has the best solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t think there should be any kind of automatic allocation of carbon tax revenue back to the oil industry, but they shouldn’t be excluded from it either,” he said.

“If they can get more carbon reductions than competing projects then why not?”

Rich Kruger, president and CEO of COSIA member Imperial Oil, said government funding of technology research is welcome but the consortium will continue to spend on innovation with or without it.

Wicklum said COSIA is already partnering with government departments through initiatives such as the 13 research chairs it sponsors or co-sponsors at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

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