Monday, March 12, 2007

Keeping it Simple

It is always uplifting to be so vigorously cross-examined, so I must first be grateful to have a most worthy adversary in Mr. Rainswept! It reminds me that intellectual vigor still exists in this often shallow world. It was not my intention to debate the merits or demerits of the ACCA but rather to point out that the Sierra Club presented it in the same shallow and perhaps misleading terms so common to its governmental foes. If my readers will indulge me, I shall endeavour to present a similarly cracked-lens example:

imaginary news release:
"It is a gross waste of public funds to give an 8 billion dollar tax break to the wealthiest Canadians"

Is this statement true? Much like the Sierra Club release, this is sort of true. 8 billion dollars is the amount that Canadians poured into their mutual funds this year. For the tax illiterate, every dollar you put into a mutual fund is subtracted from your taxable income. Additionally, the wealthiest Canadians spend the most on mutual funds. It is also true that mutual funds are how most people save for retirement. This money though becomes taxable when it is drawn upon making it essentially a tax deferral or as rainswept calls it, "an effective loan." It is useful though to examine what happens to this money as a form of opportunity cost to the public purse. It is true, because of the tax deferral, there is less money in the public purse, but this money gets multiplied when it is saved. This happens when the bank loans this money out, jobs get created when this money buys IPOs (initial public offerings) or other equity derivatives. Some of that money even may end up back in the public treasury if the mutual fund portfolio contains federal bonds. The point is that money is not destroyed, it is spread throughout the economy creating jobs and generating new taxes. Mutual funds are not as simple as a tax break for the rich.
Now back to the ACCA. One may think that my example is a defense of the ACCA since I'm clearly implying that tax deferred monies are buying equipment that creates manufacturing jobs, jobs for operators, mechanics, laborers, service jobs, support jobs and all the other spin offs that ultimately and eventually contribute back to the common good through tax revenue. It seems as though I could be arguing that "a tax break to big oil" is a lopsided way of saying job and wealth creation for tradespeople and others taxpayers who little resemble Armani suit wearing oil barons.
My point is this: the opposition to the ACCA is only logically grounded in the environment, not in economics. I think I have shown that the economic ramifications are not so simple. Taken on the whole, the entire economy, not just a corporate bottom line benefits from wealth creation. On the other hand, the environmental argument is much more simple.

Over the last 15 years, I have been to nearly every square foot of Alberta. I have supervised the planting of nearly 30 million trees from the US border to the tar sands. I have worked on oil and gas land reclamation (returning lands to their original condition) and road decommissioning. For over 4 years I have performed contracts for the government auditing forest management areas to ensure that government standards are being met. As opposed to the Sierra Club, I'm the guy who determines whether correct forest practices are being met and at the stroke of my pen, I can force a company to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. I've worked oil and gas initial survey so I've seen land before oil activity and after. My knowledge and expertise of the Alberta environment is unique and thorough and grounded with real experience not ideals. The benefit of this experience is a good understanding of the balance between resource extraction and environmental stewardship, both of which are in the common good.

My direct experience with the scale of destruction in some of the most beautiful places on earth has been profound. But equally profound is my experience with the regeneration of nature.

I have flown over natural forest fires that left a scorched earth hundreds of miles across. I've seen a pristine earth, maggot-ridden with the reeking stench of oil wells. I've seen majestic forests where once was man's greedy thirst for oil, trees and ore. Come to think of it, the environmental question is not that simple either.

The question then becomes: how can we extract resources and create power in a responsible way? To address this, the Alberta government showed some rare initiative by announcing a CO2 pipeline that will pump CO2 from the oilsands to underground storage in the Pembina field. One hopes that this infrastructure will pave the way for CO2 capture and storage from the biggest carbon emitter in Alberta, the coal-fired electricity plants that service Calgary and Edmonton. Curiously, the Pembina Institute, the leading environmental group in Alberta, slammed the proposal arguing that it perpetuated the dependence on fossil fuels. Do they want Canada to just walk away from trillions of dollars of infrastructure investment? Clearly this is just not on. Solutions have to slowly build concurrently with oil infrastructure before they replace it. Creating and supporting solutions requires intelligent dialogue between government, industry and the public. It is unfortunate for the common good that, in the main, those who claim to speak for the environment have squandered any credibility with rhetoric dominated with hyperbole and fantasy.
The most interesting solutions, to no surprise, come from industry. VRB Power Systems based in Vancouver is a new start-up company that has patented the vanadium redox storage battery that acts as an intermediary power storage device that regulates the peaks and dips of most renewable energy devices like wind and solar. This power storage leaves the smallest "footprint" since it doesn't use noxious chemicals and it eliminates the inefficiencies that have stalled wide scale renewable generation. Their devices are currently being tested with early success on wind farms on three continents. I invested in this company and hope to prove that profitability need not be at odds with the common good.
I might control my smugness when I mention that the ACCA may have contributed to my earnings while I was in the oil and gas industry which allowed me to invest in VRB which is paving the way for sustainable energy generation. If you want to get to the bottom of things, follow the money.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sierra Club bathes in Conservative afterbirth

I observed with glee the Supreme Court of Canada striking down our old "terrorism" law concerning the ability of the government to hold suspects without charges. Stephen Harper was further ticked off when parliament didn't play ball with the security rhetoric. I sigh with relief that my beloved Canada found the wisdom to not fall into the traps of our southern neighbors. Of course we were subjected to Harper's false dichotomy presented to the media scrum that followed the form " the opposition chose to play politics rather than secure Canada."
I find this so distasteful considering that the terror attacks in Canada this century have really been limited to Quebecers that got the wrong idea. It amuses me that considering how much more likely you are in Canada to be murdered rather than be subject of an act of terrorism, the Harper government doesn't offer the same logic regarding murder. Nobody would suggest that in order to prevent and catch murderers we need to do away with habeas corpus. Yet this same logic is applied to the near phantom threat of terrorism.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group that never fails to amuse me with their ignorance, provided me with a hearty laugh this week. They bent the ears of the equally ignorant media long enough to get headlines across the country drawing attention to their last cause: Eliminating the tax break for oilsands development here in Alberta. The tax break was put in place when oil was $25 a barrel and the oilsands were in their infancy. Since oil now hovers around $60, they argue that the development incentive is over and now taxpayers are supporting a booming industry that doesn't need the money and is a major source of pollution. It makes a nice soundbite to gas starved Ontarians to cut the 1.5 billion dollar tax break- but wait, there's more. As it turns out, the tax break actually just lets oil company write off all capital depreciation in one year rather than a piece-meal depreciation year by year. In fact, eliminating this "tax break" wouldn't add one cent to the government coffers.

It would seem that when it comes to snowing over a hapless public with half truths and spurious logic, the Sierra Club has learned well from their governmental nemesis.