Peter McCartney: Time for B.C.’s top polluters to pay the carbon tax

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      On April 1, B.C.’s carbon tax goes up $5 a tonne: about one cent on a litre of gasoline. For most people, it gets lost in the usual ups and downs of gas prices, but these minor annual increases are the province’s most successful tool to fight climate change. 

      But while you and I cover the costs of our pollution, the worst offenders get special treatment. B.C.’s largest emitters—fracking and logging companies—don’t have to pay the tax on much of their carbon emissions. 

      That’s because it doesn’t apply to two major sources of pollution: methane releases from gas infrastructure and slash burning of logging waste. Together, they account for about 10 percent of the province’s carbon pollution, the equivalent of 1.25 million cars. 

      When the B.C. NDP came to power in 2017, Premier John Horgan instructed his environment minister to apply the carbon tax to both of these polluting industrial practices. It never happened. Now the province is falling behind on its 2030 climate target and looking for ways to close the gap.

      Research from the David Suzuki Foundation shows that applying the carbon tax to methane releases would double the climate impact of provincial regulations on the sector. That could move us 10 to 15 percent closer to meeting our emissions goal for 2030. 

      Although the province is still trying to nail down exactly how much methane that fracking companies are spilling into the atmosphere, it already prepares inventories of these emissions. As technology improves the government would have the tax framework in place to apply it to the leaks that it’s missing.

      Slash-burning emissions, from lighting massive piles of branches left in clearcuts on fire, are strangely not included in the official total. But taxing these emissions could effectively end the practice—saving three to four million tonnes of carbon every year.

      That’s because logging companies are burning valuable fibre that could supply pulp mills; it’s just more cost effective at the moment to light it up instead.

      Burning slash in B.C. doesn't lead to any carbon-tax revenue, despite the release of greenhouse gases.
      Siim Lukka

      Applying the carbon tax to methane releases and slash burning could actually create more jobs in struggling resources communities. It takes workers to gather, transport, and mill the logging leftovers just as it requires technicians to measure and repair methane leaks. Only the multinational fracking and logging companies that would finally have to pay for their own pollution would lose out.

      And why should they get a free ride in the fight against climate change? Provincial officials will argue they’re working to address these emissions via incentives. But why should giant corporations get the carrots when we get all the sticks?

      A vast majority of British Columbians support the carbon tax—more so than any other province—but we need to know we’re all in this together. It’s time for the provincial government to follow through on its promise and apply the tax to all emissions. 

      Knowing the biggest polluters in the province also had to pay their fair share might make it a little easier for families headed out to the lake this summer to swallow the price at the pump. And if our skies are filled with smoke again this year, they might breathe a little easier too, knowing we’re that much closer to meeting our climate goals.