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Liberals questioned on schools funding EnCana offsets

One BC Liberal cabinet minister today defended taking money from schools and hospitals to fund an EnCana Corporation project, while another said the connection between EnCana and carbon offsets is false.

"I know children around the province understand the importance of climate action," said Environment Minister Terry Lake, responding to a question from NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston in the legislature.

Children understand the importance of protecting the environment, he said, and "carbon neutrality is a huge part of that . . . Our public sector is committed to being carbon neutral, and offsets are a big part of that."

As for EnCana, Lake said the gas company provides money that runs the public sector. "They're the ones who are paying money for schools and hospitals and B.C. Parks."

Last week the Pacific Carbon Trust and EnCana announced the Crown corporation had agreed to buy 80,000 tonnes of carbon offsets from the company. The PCT in turn sells offsets to public bodies, including school boards and health authorities, to help them meet their legislated requirement to be carbon neutral.

For the Victoria school district, The Tyee reported, that worked out to $170,000 in 2010. The Vancouver school board spent $405,725 on offsets in 2010, facility manager Kirthi Roberts said today. Across the public sector, the PCT expects to collect roughly $20 million a year.

"Even a child can figure out we don't sack a teacher to help a polluter," NDP education critic Robin Austin observed.

And independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said, "The issue is not about what is trying to be accomplished, it's about how . . . Is this the fairest way to achieve carbon neutrality in the public sector?"

Education Minister George Abbott criticized the NDP, pointed out education spending had grown during 10 years of Liberal government, and said, "The member makes a very specious connection between carbon offsets and EnCana. That is a false connection. It is entirely specious."

On May 5 the B.C. government issued a press release saying the Pacific Carbon Trust is buying carbon offsets from EnCana.

An education ministry spokesperson said Abbott could not immediately be reached to clarify what he meant.

"Obviously we're doing as much as we can to reduce our footprint," said Vancouver school board's Roberts. Despite its best efforts, the district will always have carbon emissions, he said. "The only way it could go to zero is if you don't use any fossil fuels, you don't use any paper and you don't use any electricity . . . It's virtually impossible."

Roberts said the carbon offsets the school board is required to purchase from the PCT are an additional cost it has to manage. The education ministry could increase the annual facilities grant so schools could do more to reduce their carbon emissions and lower the amount of offsets they need to buy, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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