‘It’s generalities and little action,’ says Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie
It may be a “pandemic budget,” as Finance Minister Siobhan Coady emphasized, but critics at Confederation Building Wednesday reminded the provincial government there’s another crisis that needs addressing — the climate emergency.
“(Coady) was really pushing this idea that this is a pandemic budget ... as if that should help us taper our expectations,” said Heather Elliott, spokesperson for Coalition for a Green New Deal NL.
“It’s still a lot of money being put into incentivizing offshore exploration. ... I really am hoping that we can move towards a more sustainable environment in this province, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be with this budget.” — Heather Elliott
Elliott said the budget was not as progressive as the coalition would have liked.
“It’s still a lot of money being put into incentivizing offshore exploration. ... I really am hoping that we can move towards a more sustainable environment in this province, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be with this budget.”
The bulk of the plan to address climate change that had an attached dollar figure, rather than general comments, was $14.1 million for the continued electrification of public buildings, moving them away from fossil fuel-based energy sources, and $14.2 million to advance programs under the Low Carbon Economy Fund and industry-focused climate change adaptation initiatives.
Coffin gives thumbs down
The specific line item in the budget for climate change under the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities indicated a decrease of nearly $1.4 million from $1,889,200 in the 2019-20 budget to $497,600 in 2020-21.
Minister Derek Bennett said that decrease is a result of two programs that were scheduled to end March 31 this year — the Heat Pump Rebate Program and the Energy Efficiency Loan Program.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin was not impressed.
“Boo,” she said, making a thumbs-down signal with her hands when asked about the budget in terms of climate change.
“They took money away from climate change — they stopped the energy efficiency programs. To help people from burning excess fuel and burning extra electricity, which we know is going to get more expensive, the rebate programs for insulating your attic or basement, or putting better windows in, or putting better doors in — that’s been taken away.”
Another line item under climate change relates to the Low Carbon Economy Fund, a cost-shared program with the federal government for which groups can apply for program funding.
That decreased by $4.8 million from $11,221,800 in 2019-20 to $6,386,500 in 2020-21. Bennett said there hasn’t really been a change in funding allocations for the program, rather the amount can fluctuate depending on the number of applications received.
“Our department, obviously, takes climate change very seriously and we are implementing a number of programs,” he said.
He mentioned the installation of electric vehicle charging stations, the retail plastic bag ban, and the continuing electrification of public buildings that are currently using fossil fuel-based energy.
Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie described the province’s approach to climate change in this budget as “generalities and little action.”
“There’s only a few lines that I saw in the budget about climate change, and it really doesn’t amount to much of anything at all. ... The problem with action on climate change is we haven’t taken any meaningful action for many years now,” he said.
The province has a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but Crosbie said the province continues to set targets and then miss them. He said it is time for government to get serious about that.
However in Newfoundland public policy someone (lets call them “Bozo” to simplify things) convinced @FureyAndrew that if we were raising the carbon price we should cut the gas tax by the same amount.— Russell A. Williams (@RussAlanWill) September 30, 2020
While discussing climate change in the budget speech, Coady said work is ongoing to electrify offshore petroleum platforms to reduce flaring and to capture carbon emissions.
Coffin called that contradictory.
“If they’re going to electrify the offshore, that gives us a lower carbon per barrel, but we’re still pumping oil. I mean, that is one of the reasons why we have so much climate change.”
However, Coady referred to the province’s offshore as among some of the lowest carbon intensity oilfields in the world.
Elliott said the province needs to get away from greenwashing the oil and gas industry.
“If you’re electrifying offshore platforms, you are still contributing to the oil extraction and oil and gas industry, which is still doing damage to our planet,” she said.
Other items in Coady’s budget speech related to climate change included a comment about working with stakeholders to help create a green, tech-based innovation hub in the province, as well as $100,000 for Memorial University’s Harris Centre’s Climate Economy and Society Initiative, which will explore how the province addresses climate change while recovering from COVID-19.
Gas, diesel up
Coady said gas prices will increase slightly on Oct. 1 due to the increase in carbon pricing from $20/tonne to $30/tonne.
However, the province is reducing the provincial portion of the gas tax on gasoline by two cents/litre, mitigating some of the increase motorists will see at the pump.
Therefore, gas prices will increase about one-fifth of a cent per litre — 0.21 cents/litre to be exact — and the price of diesel will increase 2.68 cents/litre.
Some environmental groups on Twitter criticized the province for lowering the gas tax, saying it undermines the point of carbon tax to change behaviour.