Green Party Likes Biofuel. Or Not.

Starting with a CBC story yesterday, there’s been a minor flap here on PEI about biofuel development.

It seems that the Green Party of PEI had several representatives at the announcement of a proposed ethanol plant in Georgetown, and that they raised several issues, including the potential of air and water pollution from the plant, and the notion that “producing ethanol takes more energy than is derived from the product.” Provincial Green Party leader Sharon Labchuk characterized ethanol production as a “huge hoax.”

On tonight’s Compass there was a follow-up story, with an interview with Ms. Labchuk, in which the reporter asked about the opposition in light of the following statement in the party’s 2006 national election platform:

Green Party MPs will work to: Employ incentives to increase the percentage of ethanol content in gasoline and the availability of other biofuels.

Ms. Labchuk, appearing quite uncomfortable, defended the apparent inconsistency by suggesting that the platform was only in force during the election, and has “no official standing outside of the election period.”

However at its 2006 Convention, the Green Party passed many resolutions, including the following regarding biofuels:

  • A follow-up to the 5% biofuel content target of 2010. The GPC will promote 10% biofuel content by 2015 and 20% by 2020.
  • GST and other taxes will be collected from consumers only on the percentage of non-renewable resource fuel. The biofuel portion will be tax-exempt.
  • Shift government supported research away from GMO biotechnology towards organic food production and efficient biofuel crop development.

Presumably these resolutions, made only a month ago, are still reflective of the party’s views. And while they don’t specifically mention support of ethanol, they don’t come out against it either. And given that ethanol is so prominent in the world “alternative fuels,” this amounts to at least tacit support.

Now I’m no stranger to inconsistency myself, but I figure if you’re going to wrap yourself up into party politics, the least you can do is to get your story straight. It’s hard enough convincing everyone that we need to worry about our energy use without muddying the waters; indeed water-muddying is one of the favourite tools of Big Oil when they want to convince us the purported “half-bakedness” of alternative energy sources.

What do other federal parties think about ethanol?

The NDP has a policy to “[r]equire that at least 5 per cent of the gasoline supply consist of ethanol by 2008, and move to meet a goal of 10 per cent by 2010.”

In May the Liberal opposition said that “[i]ncreasing the use of ethanol may be a way to boost the use of renewable fuels and stimulate rural economies, but, as a stand alone measure, it will not have a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions” but also reported that “the [former] Liberal government made significant direct investments in the expansion of ethanol production in Canada.”

The ruling Conservatives says that it “believes in promotion of alternative energy (such as wind, solar, geothermal) and transitional fuels (such as biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas) to help develop hydrogen as a fuel.”

Ethanol, in other words, has a lot of supporters, on both sides of the aisle. I have no idea whether it’s a viable, sustainable component of our future fuel mix; indeed I share Ms. Labchuk’s suspicions that it in fact takes more energy to produce ethanol than the fuel itself provides.

Which is all to say that when standing up against ethanol it’s probably a good idea to have the facts straight, the media under your control, and to check with the party platform to see if you’re in sync. Otherwise, you just come off looking confused, and the ethanol train keeps on rolling.


Normie's picture
Normie on October 7, 2006 - 01:16 Permalink

I just like seeing her backpeddeling for once. I can understand how any one on Prince Edward Island can complain about EVERYTHING on Prince Edward Island.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on October 9, 2006 - 23:13 Permalink

With respect to biofuels: It seems the PC government has no interest in being greener but simply wants to move economic activity to PEI at the expense of the environment while appearing greener to people who don’t know better and won’t bother to find out.

They know biofuels (at the moment) produce more pollution than they prevent. They also know the energy return is marginal or negative. They don’t care; it’s worth a couple hundred million in economic activity to industrial farmers — and those guys/gals are rather influential.

Labchuk could have simply said that she supports “biofuels with a high energy return and a small ecological production-footprint”. The recently announced project can claim neither. I’m astonished at her stumble — it wasn’t a high hurdle.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 9, 2006 - 23:45 Permalink

While there may be some truth to what you say, Kevin, I think it’s disingenuous to say that “the PC government has no interest in being greener.”

Surely they must be given some credit for recent investments in wind energy, hydrogen energy storage and energy conservation.

Indeed, short of dramatic reductions in energy usage — perhaps involuntarily inevitable in the long term, but unlikely to happen otherwise — I’d be hard pressed to suggest how our government would chart a course different in substance than the one they’re on now if the goal is to increase the Island’s energy self-sufficiency in a sustainable manner.

Shouldn’t we be applauding their unlikely efforts, and pushing them to work harder and greener rather than suggesting that their motives are impure?