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B.C. discovers it's hard being green

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VANCOUVER -- As a three-term premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell ran a tight ship, bowed at the altar of capitalism and was an aloof policy wonk who seldom veered from his right-wing agenda.

One of the rare times Campbell allowed the environment to trump the economy, or at least to be an equal partner in provincial politics, was his realization growing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels could seriously damage "Beautiful British Columbia."

With that in mind, B.C. introduced in 2007 the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, ground-breaking legislation, at least for North America, designed to deal with global warming.

The new law called for a reduction in B.C. of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 and an emission-reduction target of 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.

That was then. Now, pretty well everyone here agrees, the provincial government will never reach those targets and has essentially given up trying.

Instead, the new provincial mantra embraces the rapid development of a future liquefied natural gas sector and if the "legally binding" greenhouse gas reduction targets are not met, so be it.

Campbell left politics in early 2011 and was promptly appointed as Canada's High Commissioner to the U.K. Since then the provincial Liberals, and new leader Christy Clark, have been charting a new course, especially when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, the province has seen a 5.8 per cent decrease in its greenhouse gas emissions since 2008, but the current trajectory suggests the province will not meet its 33 per cent reduction target by 2020.

The Sierra Club also says B.C.'s proposed LNG terminals -- through extracting, processing and burning shale gas -- will result in provincial carbon dioxide emissions increasing by between 81 and 112 million tonnes from the 62 million tonnes recorded in 2011.

Clark's one-agenda government dream is to make the province a global supplier of LNG.

In her mind, B.C. will become a sort of Riyadh West, but instead of Saudi Arabia's seemingly endless bounty of crude oil being shipped to thirsty supply chains, the province will make obscene amounts of money from converting natural gas into LNG and then exporting it.

Jobs will be created, she trumpets, the government debt will be cancelled, prosperity will reign for approximately 150 years.

Clark has described proposed LNG plants as "worldwide pollution-fighting machines" because they would be burning natural gas, a cleaner fossil fuel than oil and coal. "We are doing the world a favour," she was reported as saying at a November press conference.

Spencer Chandra-Herbert, the opposition NDP environment critic, is one of many British Columbians who are not persuaded by Clark's position.

Chandra-Herbert was involved in filing a freedom of information request that yielded a government briefing document admitting natural gas development will have a significant impact on B.C.'s progress in meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets.

"Emissions increases in B.C. resulting from liquefied natural gas (LNG) development could range from a 16 per cent increase through to a doubling of B.C.'s total emissions depending on the number of plants and the technology and energy options chosen," the June document says. "At the high end of that range, B.C.'s natural gas sector emissions would be comparable to those from Alberta's oil sands."

Chandra-Herbert said the Liberals do not realize the environment and the economy need to work together.

"You cannot have a sustainable economy if you destroy the environment," he said. "Fundamentally, it's short-term greed trumpeting long-term need."

In the province that created Greenpeace, the world's most successful environmental organization, the economy is once again going to trump the environment. And if the next generation of British Columbians, or the one following that, burns up because of global warming and LNG emissions, well, that's just the cost of doing business.

Chris Rose is the Winnipeg Free Press West Coast correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 A15

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