The CBC reports that Gordon Lambert, the VP of sustainable development for Suncor Energy Inc., just told a special legislative committee that the federal government should set up a new technology fund to help oil and gas companies clean up their act - instead of "punitive measures" like mandatory emissions standards.
"We do have a significant dilemma before us," he told a special legislative committee studying Bill C-30, Canada's Clean Air Act, in Ottawa.
"On the one hand, we want abundant clean energy. On the other other, we want to protect the environment. The only way to square that circle is through new technology.
"We are looking for all kinds of policies and partnerships with government to enable us to get there. What's going to work is not punitive measures, but collaborative efforts."
(Well, there's another term for "collaborative efforts" between governments and corporations, but it falls rather outside the pale of acceptable political discourse.)
Lambert's solution? New technology. I'm sure I've heard the same argument somewhere else.
We don't need to scratch our heads and wonder how responsive the oil industry will be to voluntary targets and public subsidies; it's never worked before. The only measure that produces real improvements in pollution and energy efficiency is firm standards backed by meaningful penalties.
Contrary to Lambert's obfuscations, a predictable business framework with firm targets actually produces more innovation, as companies chase the strong incentive to meet the targets and continue operating.
Consider the auto industry. European and Japanese companies, operating under much stricter mandatory emissions and safety standards than the US companies, have the highest rated vehicles, the most sales, and the highest profits.
The American automakers, long mollycoddled under lax standards and public subsidies, are hemmoraging billions of dollars a year with their bloated, inefficient vehicles.
Of course, there's a chance it simply may not be possible to produce oil from the Alberta Tar Sands at an acceptable level of pollution. The process of digging up oily sand, injecting it with steam and skimming off the bitumen to refine into oil is inherently energy-intensive and environmentally devastating.
Energy investment banker Matthew Simmons (see the RTH review of his book Twilight in the Desert) described the method of using natural gas to heat the water used to extract the hydrocarbons as "like turning gold into lead".
However, we'll never discover whether the process can be cleaned up enough to make it worth continuing as long as the oil corporations continue to enjoy voluntary "targets".
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