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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

alberta's throne speech. take two.

With everything going on these days from the NHL playoffs, to Dick Pound and the Beijing Olympics, and RCMP "raids" on Conservative Party offices (an issue on which I tend to agree with Paul Wells) did anyone notice that Alberta had a Speech from the Throne this week? I wouldn't blame you if you didn't.

As this is Alberta's second Throne Speech of the year, the lessened fanfare is understandable. The first Throne Speech of 2008, which coincided with the election call, seemed to consist largely of the Tories' last minute change of heart on Health Care Premiums (which they promised to scrap in four years) and their vigilant fight against the Pine Beetle (something that was noticeably absent from the second speech).

A large part of this week's Throne Speech delivered by Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong, focused on a new direction for "greener energy," which I can only assume has something to do with the Tories nuclear agenda for the Peace Country. As much as I would hope that Tory Premier Ed Stelmach and Environment Minister Rob Renner's new green agenda is more than just hot air, I wouldn't blame Albertans for having a hard time believing that an outspoken defender of the tarsands current environmental record is serious about protecting the environment, rather than just changing political perceptions.

A report card released earlier this year by the World Wildlife Fund highlighted the weak-environmental performance of tarsands developments in Alberta:

the most comprehensive comparative assessment of 10 of Alberta’s operating, approved or applied for oil sands mines. The mines, for the most part, get a failing grade.

The average score among all oil sands projects surveyed was only 33 per cent, demonstrating substantial room for improvement across the sector. The leading operation in the survey was the Albian Sands Muskeg River Mine, scoring 56 per cent. The weakest operations were Syncrude and the proposed Synenco Northern Lights Mine both with scores of 18 per cent.

Oil sands mines were ranked on 20 different environmental indicators in five categories: environmental management, land impacts, air pollution, water use, and management of greenhouse gases. Companies were invited to complete the survey questionnaire and provided with two opportunities to comment on their performance. In total, seven of the 10 projects participated in the survey. Three companies, Total E&P, Syncrude and Canadian Natural declined to respond.


tjk said...

"Tories nuclear agenda" dave?

daveberta said...

what would you call it?

Anonymous said...

I think nuclear is more of a fluorescent green. It would be fitting that considering the average age of the Tory caucus most of the current minister and mlas won't be around to have to deal with the nuclear problems once the waste begins to accumulate.

Except Kowalski, he'll be around forever, I heard that his new speakers term doesn't expire until 2030.

Anonymous said...

Alberta Get Rich or Die Trying has a good post from yesterday about Liepert's health care reform plans.

*CONSERV*ative voter said...

With Stelmach intent on tripling oil production by 2016 and that increase scheduled to proceed without any requirements to reduce resulting emissions, I wonder how they are going to justify calling themselves green.

Wasn't it Stelmach's plan to allow emissions to triple until 2018? Wasn't it Stelmach's plan allows carbon missions not to be cut until the year 2050?

Kyle G. Olsen said...

I would much rather environmentalists took everything in scope, and realized that coal power in Alberta has emissions five times higher than all the oilsands projects!

Even if Alberta ever gets to the 4 million barrel per day oilsands production that alarmists base their fears on, coal power will still produce close to double the amount of GHGs from the oilsand.

tjk said...

The article says nothing about the government taking action on nuclear plants.

It talks about companies that want to build here.

That caption makes it seem like the government is doing this.

ch said...

Hey Dave, we noticed the speech over at AGRDT. I and the other authors tried to think of an angle yesterday, but you're right there really wasn't anything unexpected/exciting.

That said, my personal highlight was the use of the much-maligned 'rising tide lifts all boats' analogy, which although generally being pointed to as the perfect example of overzealous neoliberal economists' foolishness during the early 1990s free-trade push (turns out a rising tide does not in fact lift all boats: hello income disparity), is nonetheless unproblematically picked up as a main theme in our government's throne speech. Lovely.

Anyhow, I like your translation of what a new focus on greener energy means. I didn't even think of that. I just took it for hollow rhetoric.

daveberta said...

"The article says nothing about the government taking action on nuclear plants."

That's my point. Why else would a government be quiet about such a critically important issue?

tjk said...

Because nothing's going on yet. No reviews, no push by the government for or against nuclear plants. Nothing has begun that engages the government yet.

What is very clear though is the government is not out there with a "nuclear agenda" trying to cover the north with nuclear plants.

There is a long and difficult road ahead for anyone hoping to provide nuclear generation capacity in this province.

i bet you think this song is about you. said...

"There is a long and difficult road ahead for anyone hoping to provide nuclear generation capacity in this province."

That is, until the oil companies run out of energy for new tarsands developments. Anyone who doesn't think that the Alberta government is in the backpockets of the oil companies should remember that $1 billion royalty break they got last week (or just look at the PC Party donors list).

Grande Prairie said...

At their annual general meeting on May 5th, 2007, PC party members voted in favour of exploring the use of nuclear power plants to assist oilsands development. The companies themselves have since confirmed the application is not practical due to unrealized cogeneration potential and the fact that this would be an extremely expensive source of steam.

The motion's language, however, to "explore using nuclear power plants to assist oilsands development" could mean many different things, including an attempt to legitimize nuclear energy as an effective way to offset rising emissions. The nuclear industry itself champions expansion on this principle - an alternative to fossil fuels for meeting base-load requirements so that demand for energy can continue to increase.

It's important to remember that despite the calm posture of Alberta's government, they are right in the middle of a public relations crisis that is quickly turning into a constitutional confrontation with the rest of the country and the world. Promoting carbon capture and sequestration as a "green technology" is an example of the panic that is only going to intensify in the months and years ahead. That this is the centerpiece of their green vision should be nothing short of terrifying to the public.

I fear it will not be the centrepiece for long though.

With regards to the government's position on nuclear energy, it's not hard to see what's happening. Mel Knight immediately distanced himself from the party motion, saying "it is in the government's best interests to be seen neither as an opponent nor a proponent of nuclear energy" - but it's hard to believe that Henuset would have gotten as far as he did with Energy Alberta's application without discrete or implicit support from the provincial cabinet.

It's also interesting to note Knight's response that it's in the "government's best interests" to avoid taking a position. One might consider examining the province's past experience with energy issues and ask what exactly the interests of the government probably are.