CALGARY — The head of Canada's largest integrated oil company on Tuesday came out in favour of a carbon tax as part of a national energy strategy to reduce emissions and promote "responsible" energy development, but provincial government representatives quickly shot down the idea.
Speaking at an environment conference in Calgary, Suncor CEO Rick George said he would support a carbon tax if the fiscal burden was evenly shared between industry and consumers and applied evenly across the country.
"I'm not necessarily opposed to a carbon tax, but what we have to do is tax all carbon equally," he told reporters. "A molecule of carbon is the same whether it's produced out of an oilsands plant or the tailpipe of your car."
During his speech, George complained of a patchwork of regulations across the country and said he supports harmonizing policies between provinces and even major trading partners such as the United States.
But Doug Horner, Alberta's deputy premier and minister of Advanced Education, Industry and Technology, flatly dismissed the idea of a tax on consumers and bristled at the suggestion of a national energy policy beyond simple co-operation between provinces and the federal government on energy issues.
"We're not in favour of a carbon tax because we don't believe it's going to accomplish what we want to get to," he said. "We're a province that prides itself on having the lowest tax regime in the country and we're going to continue to do that."
Alberta is the only jurisdiction in North America that has put a price of $15 per tonne of emissions over and above predetermined intensity targets.
The money is in turn put into a fund devoted to researching carbon reduction technology. In addition, the province has devoted $2 billion to developing and commercializing carbon capture and storage technology.
Alberta's emissions reduction efforts compare with an outright carbon tax in British Columbia, the adoption of low-carbon fuel standards in California and a cap and trade system of emissions trading proposed by the U.S. government.
Other industry representatives said the idea of a carbon levy, or fee, only makes practical sense if it's evenly applied between producing and consuming jurisdictions that import energy products such as oil and natural gas.
David Collyer, head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the idea of taxes is hard to communicate for politicians and suggested Alberta's $15 per tonne charge is essentially a tax by another name.
"The mechanism doesn't matter so much as its broad application. What we've always said is that industry will do its part -- and it should -- but for Canada to meet its emissions reduction targets, we have to deal with the consumption part of the equation. And part of that is applying carbon pricing in whatever form to consumption as well as production of energy."
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