08 Nov Time to apply ‘polluter pays’ principle
Re: “Good call on carbon-capture liability,” Opinion, Nov. 3.
The Journal editorial fails to consider a core principle regarding how we should treat our environment. That is: a polluter should pay for management of waste streams they create.
The “polluter pays” principle is one of several core principles of progressive environmental law, including pollution prevention, intergenerational equity, and the precautionary approach.
In relation to CCS, it appears we have been heading down a road of anything but polluter pays. Bill 24 does not deal with the sensitive issue of when the public will assume this liability and it may turn out that the taxpayers are adopting a significant liability for an unproven and risky venture to placate industry.
Further, the limitation of liability must be considered in light of the $2 billion of taxpayers’ money the government has committed to CCS pilot projects.
Failure to effectively adopt a polluter pays principle simply defers costs onto the public or a future generation.
One can see an example with the existing legacy of orphan well sites that dot the Alberta landscape (with various levels of contamination, no doubt). The government has attempted to address the issue through the orphan well program and yet significant public liability remains in a backlog of tens of thousands of well sites that have yet to be reclaimed and remediated.
The operators of these well sites are often long gone but their environmental legacy remains.
The Journal editorial views the adoption of liability by the public as valid due to fact that CCS policy is focused on protecting the public good. However, a stronger argument exists to hold the polluters themselves liable for the solution to their pollution, namely, the increased costs of managing waste streams and covering long-term liability (which will typically be passed on to the end consumer) have the added benefit of driving behavioural change.
This approach reflects a “cradle-to-grave” management of waste streams and recognizes the environmental costs of consumption that are often externalized.
All we have now is public resources being thrown at addressing a symptom, the greenhouse gases created by hydrocarbon production, without any movement toward resolving the cause — our dependence on fossil fuels.
Jason Unger, Staff Counsel, Environmental Law Centre, Edmonton