A healthy environment and a healthy economy

By BARB MILLER

Did you know that Alberta burns more coal than the rest of Canada combined?

That was a shock to me when I heard it. Why was our province, sitting on a wealth of natural gas and other potential energy sources as it was, burning coal for more than 60% of its electricity generation?

The simple answer is economics. Coal is cheap and plentiful and coal mines employed thousands of Albertans. The complicated answer is that we as a society have not demanded that the government place more value on health and the environment than it does on the economy and on jobs.

We’ve all heard this debate for years. Do we favour the economy or the environment? Do we care more about jobs and money or about health and social justice? We have an answer to this debate, and our answer comes through our Climate Leadership Plan.

Our answer is that there is no inherent contradiction between economic health and environmental health. We can have both, and we have to have both in order to achieve a sustainable future for our children, grandchildren and onward.

The good news is that this debate and the choice to create cleaner energy is taking place everywhere around the world.

Even China, the world’s largest coal user and emitter of CO2, is decreasing the amount of coal it burns. It has also become the world leader in wind power, delivering more energy that way in 2015 than the entire European Union.

India, the world’s second largest country by population, is pouring millions of dollars into renewable energy projects.

On May 24th, our provincial government announced how we will be implementing our Climate Leadership Plan.

As someone who cares about both the people and the economy, and as a life-long resident of Alberta, I am proud that we are finally showing leadership and moving toward a cleaner and more diverse economy.

The main tool that our government will use is the carbon levy.

No, this is not a tax.

It will not be tacked onto your bill in a restaurant or onto your purchase at a store like GST is, or like PST is in other provinces.

It will be invisible, and will be applied only to items that generate pollution.

It’s really quite simple.

The government will collect the levy fairly and evenly throughout the economy. We will give a full or partial rebate of that levy to six out of 10 families, and we will reinvest the rest of the revenue back into the economy, creating jobs, spurring growth in sustainable technology, investing in green transit and infrastructure projects and supporting energy efficiency.

Every major economy in the world and every jurisdiction in Canada is now facing the same challenge and opportunity that Alberta is.

Before the Climate Leadership Plan, Alberta was the only province in Canada that did not have a provincial energy efficiency plan. That is not leadership.

We must move away from coal, and must show leadership in how we deal with carbon-based fuels and the amount of pollution that we emit into the atmosphere. Red Deer knows this.

For the years from 2009 to 2013 we surpassed national standards for ozone and fine particulate matter in the air in the Red Deer area. We know that the young and the old – the most vulnerable to illness from air borne pollution – are affected by this pollution.

We can do something about it. We can work together to keep our energy sector as a viable and robust part of a diversified energy economy. We can reinvest money from a carbon levy into improving our environment, our economy and our children’s future. I hope we have everyone’s support as we work to protect the health of our citizens and to move Alberta forward into a cleaner, greener and healthier world.

Barb Miller is the MLA for Red Deer – South

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