BC chops carbon trust, capital commission to save $50M

Carbon offset program to be transferred to the Climate Action Secretariat.

VANCOUVER — BC’s much-maligned Pacific Carbon Trust will be eliminated and the province’s profitable greenhouse gas offset program brought into the government fold, as the provincial government attempts to slash $50 million to meet the promise of a balanced budget next year.

Bill Bennett, the minister responsible for a core review of government services, said winding down the controversial Crown carbon offset agency will trim $5.6 million annually.

“I recognize the significance of this change but, again, I want to make it really clear we are committed to carbon neutrality in the public sector and achieving our greenhouse gas emissions targets,” Bennett said. “We have simply found a way to deliver these benefits more efficiently for less money.”

Transferring the carbon offset program to the Climate Action Secretariat within the Environment Ministry will mean a reduction in staff from 18 to five. Employees will be given an opportunity to transfer to other jobs within government.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the activities of the trust, established in 2008, will continue from within government – a disappointment to some of its most ardent critics.

“We’ve accomplished the first set of objectives, and that was establishing a market that involved carbon offsetting in British Columbia,” Polak said.

“We still have that record of being the first carbon-neutral jurisdiction in all of North America, and we will continue to be carbon neutral.”

In order to be “carbon neutral,” public sector agencies purchase carbon offsets, or credits, from the trust from other, more environmentally beneficial projects to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions.

A report by provincial Auditor General John Doyle last March found that government agencies were buying offsets from the trust at a cost more than double the amount on the open market. It also found that the trust was purchasing carbon credits from projects that were not eligible.

Jordan Bateman, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the program is “hopelessly flawed.” He welcomed the decision to scrap the agency, but had hoped government would go further.

“Taxpayers are spending millions on buying carbon credits for these facilities rather than providing frontline services,” Bateman said, adding that Interior Health spent $1.24 million purchasing offsets from the trust last year.

“It doesn’t address the core issue there… but we’ll take wins where we can get them with any government.”

© 2013 The Canadian Press