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Leaked letters raise concerns over BC auditor's carbon neutrality report

A set of leaked letters is undermining the credibility of a report to be released today by British Columbia's auditor general over the provincial government's carbon neutral experiment.

Environmental, legal and industry experts have roundly criticized John Doyle's upcoming report as "useless," and an attempt to "wilfully misinterpret and misconstrue" the facts about the environmental tax plan.

Critics have called on the Liberal government to scrap its Pacific Carbon Trust, saying it has been almost 99 per cent taxpayer funded -- $14 million -- forcing schools, hospitals and other public entities to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on carbon credits, while private businesses sell their credits for cash.

But supporters say the trust continues to make strides towards turning B.C.'s into one of the world's leading carbon-neutral economies.

Doyle's audit of the Liberal government's carbon neutral initiative has been widely anticipated, with independent MLA Bob Simpson already scheduling a news conference Tuesday to debunk what he says is the government's costly and inefficient method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But even before the release of Doyle's audit, controversy is swirling.

The Canadian Press has obtained three letters from carbon-reduction experts raising concerns about Doyle's report prior to its release.

One letter is from Attorney General Shirley Bond to James Tansey, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Offsetters Climate Solutions about the upcoming Doyle report.

The letter to Tansey, also a University of B.C. Sauder School of Business associate professor specializing in climate technologies, is date-stamped Feb. 26.

"Your letter indicates a serious matter related to the audit being undertaken by the Office of the Auditor General," states Bond. "You further say in your letter that it is your view that the report could result in significant financial liability for the province, and you strongly encourage my office to review the report and amend it before it is released."

Bond's response to Tansey's letter does not identify his concerns, but she states she's made Doyle's office aware of the letter.

"I have alerted the auditor general to your correspondence and to the issues that it raises and I am confident that the auditor general will ensure that any actions taken by his office meet the good faith requirements of section 18 of the Auditor General Act," stated her response.

The act states no legal proceedings for damages may be commenced against the auditor general or others due to omissions or performance of duty, but the act's protections do not apply to anything done or omitted in bad faith.

Another letter amounts to a resignation statement to Pacific Carbon Trust officer Scott MacDonald.

The March 23 letter to MacDonald is from University of Ottawa law Prof. Stewart Elgie, an environmental law expert.

Elgie's letter states he stepped down as an expert adviser for Doyle's carbon neutral audit and has terminated his position.

"It would not be appropriate to share the details of why I have taken this step," states Elgie's letter. "I will simply say that I have not been shown or reviewed any of the (auditor's) draft reports for the past seven months."

"Before that time, the materials I did review indicated that the audit findings were heading in a direction that was inconsistent with the expert advice I provided in several major areas, particularly concerning the Darkwoods project," states the letter.

The Darkwoods Forest Carbon project is a Nature Conservancy of Canada initiative that seeks to market carbon credits generated from the 55,000-hectare Darkwoods Conservation Area in B.C.'s Selkirk Mountains.

The final letter is from David Antonioli, chief executive officer of Washington D.C.-based Verified Carbon Standard, an international company founded to provide quality assurance standards that projects could use to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and issue credits in voluntary markets.

Antonioli's Feb. 22 letter to Doyle -- also sent to Premier Christy Clark, Environment Minister Terry Lake and Finance Minister Mike de Jong -- outlines his company's frustrations in dealing with Doyle's audit.

"After almost a year of exchanging information with your office, and devoting countless hours of staff time to address your team's misinterpretations of VCS rules and requirements, I am dismayed to conclude that the entire exercise has been useless," states Antonioli's letter.

"My staff and I entered this process with a seemingly reasonable assumption that you were open to understanding how VCS rules and requirements work, as well as how the international carbon markets operate."

But the letter further states Doyle's office has to date been unable to give the Darkwoods project a fair hearing when it comes to measuring carbon surpluses.

"Your office's ongoing misinterpretation of regulatory surplus is just one of the various topics my team has dealt with that has cumulatively caused us to lose trust in your work," states Antonioli's letter.

"However, it is perhaps the most illustrative and demonstrates fully how your team continues to wilfully misinterpret and misconstrue basic facts. Specifically: lack of objectivity ... created controversy where none exists ... ignoring evidence... using elements from entirely different standards."

Antonioli states he will gladly participate in any review that may result from Doyle's audit.

Doyle could not be immediately reached for comment.

The auditor general was not reappointed this year to serve a second six-year term by an all-party government committee.

Doyle announced recently he leaving his post for Australia, but said he expects to file several reports before signing off.

For more from the Canadian Press, click here or scroll down The Tyee's main page.

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