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Fossil fuel rep has a 'story environmentalists don't like to hear'

Consumers will have to pay far more for goods in the coming years because of climate change policies that discourage the burning of fossil fuels, warns an industry association.

Carol Montreuil, a vice president at the Canadian Fuels Association, had dire predictions for New Brunswick politicians on Tuesday when he appeared before the legislature’s standing committee on climate change.

“We all understand that net-zero by 2050 will come at a cost, but to gain social acceptability we must be transparent about it and explain both the benefits and cost aspects,” he told the politicians from the three different parties.

He said Canadians could expect fuel taxes to increase from 35 cents to 80 cents a litre on average by 2030, a carbon price that would have a spillover effect on everything from groceries to clothing to construction materials, since the energy costs for production and distribution trickle through the economy.

In presenting his warnings, the official built a case that sounded similar to the argument Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs has been making since coming to office: while the threat posed by climate change is real, New Brunswick has to be realistic about transitioning from fossil fuels to other, more expensive forms of energy.

Underlining his message was the idea that worldwide demand for energy would increase by 50 per cent by 2050, a gap that fossil fuels like oil and natural gas could help fill.

Some of the politicians balked at the presentation. Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault said many citizens realized the world was in an urgent situation caused by the threat of global warming.

“During World War II there was a sense of urgency, so people pulled up their socks and did what had to be done,” the politician said. “I don’t feel I’ve heard that from you enough.”

Montreuil replied that his definition of urgency was probably different from Arseneault’s. He said without a doubt, climate change had to be addressed, but he questioned how far governments should push for a zero fossil fuel future.

“It’s not only about climate change. It’s also about the economic wealth of our constituents. It’s also about understanding that energy security supply is also important. We cannot do this transition in a matter of a few years. Bringing a sense of balance to the discussion - this is the sense of urgency.”

Montreuil cited a recent RBC report that outlined what it would cost Canada to transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 and fulfill the nation’s part in halting greenhouse gas emissions and saving the planet from global warming.

The report said it would cost $2 trillion, which for New Brunswick, Montreuil said, would work out to “a staggering” $1.3 billion a year, a huge cost for a small province.

Furthermore, he said for the world to transition to wind, solar and battery backup power would require the creation of between 200 and 300 mines, the kind of projects that in Canada take on average 16 years to get operational.

He also pointed out that in European countries that have made the biggest strides in switching their grids to renewable energy - Denmark and Germany - they are now paying 50 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, about four times the price in New Brunswick.

Green Party MLA Megan Mitton pushed back, mentioning scientists have warned the world needs to significantly reduce fossil fuel use. She cited the International Energy Agency, which has warned methane emissions must be chopped by three-quarters to halt global warming. Oil, gas and coal production is the biggest contributor to human-produced methane, after agriculture.

But the official insisted the worst part of oil and gas was during production, not from people burning it in their vehicles or homes. He said that could be dealt with at the source to avoid the worst greenhouse gas emissions.

“I know it’s a story environmentalists don't like to hear, 'oh my god, here's a way out for the oil industry.' Carbon can actually be captured and stored, so it’s not about the elimination of fossil fuels, it’s about the elimination of carbon,” he said. “And we’re up for the challenge. We have projects on the drawing board that will do just that. Capture the carbon at the source, ensuring it does not end up in the atmosphere and bringing us closer to net-zero.”

John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner