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US think tank sees 'inconsistency' between BC's carbon tax, fossil fuel exports

British Columbia's carbon tax offers a "tremendously useful role model" for U.S. states developing their own climate policies, said the policy director of a Seattle-based think tank.

But the Sightline Institute's Eric de Place has noticed an "interesting inconsistency" between the province's "not perfect but pretty damn good" price on carbon emissions, and its current energy export plans.

"If you look at fossil fuels combusted inside [B.C.'s] border it's a fairly clean energy province," de Place said. "At the same time it's selling a huge stream of fossil fuel into the global economy."

B.C. is Canada's largest exporter of coal and is also the terminus for 300,000 barrels of oil delivered each day through Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain pipeline.

Plans are in the works to turn the Lower Mainland into North America's biggest coal port; more than double the Kinder Morgan pipeline's capacity; and transform the north coast into a major global export hub for oil and liquefied natural gas.

Whichever party forms B.C.'s next government on May 14 might want to consider phasing in a "carbon tax on the fossil fuel it exports," de Place said. That is, he added, if it's at all concerned about maintaining the province's reputation for "green leadership."

Premier Christy Clark often argues that liquefied natural gas exports, though making B.C.'s own carbon targets difficult to meet, will actually help fight climate change on a global scale, by offsetting coal production in Asia.

"I think there is a grain of truth in there," de Place said, "but a shaker full of inaccuracy."

More likely in his opinion is that B.C. gas exports "might just add to the energy stream" in Asia, complementing coal-fired power, rather than displacing it.

Still, de Place thinks one of the most important policy decisions B.C.'s next government will make is whether to continue supporting the carbon tax.

"Generally speaking," he said, "[it's] worth emulating south of the border. I actually don't think it's crazy at this point to think that Oregon and Washington might someday soon take steps in that direction."

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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