A small B.C. school district says itâ€™s planning not to buy carbon offsets through a provincial Crown corporation this year but to use that money instead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally.
Frank Lento, chairman of the Southeast Kootenay board of education, said the district is displeased with the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), which has been widely criticized for taking money from schools, hospitals and universities and funnelling it to private companies, including energy-producer Encana Corporation.
PCT critics include former auditor general John Doyle, who disputed the governmentâ€™s claim of carbon neutrality, saying the carbon offsets purchased were not credible.
Lento compared the governmentâ€™s continued promotion of PCT as â€œselling snake oilâ€� and said: â€œWe are putting (money) into corporate boardrooms … while taking it out of classrooms.â€�
The PCT was created in 2008 as part of a government plan to address climate change. Public institutions were required to purchase carbon offsets from the Crown, which would then use the money to fund greenhouse gas reduction projects at pulp mills, hotels, gas-drilling rigs and greenhouses.
The Southeast Kootenay school district is required to pay PCT almost $80,000 this year, about the same as last year, the board said in a release. But trustees voted this week in favour of creating a reserve fund with an amount equivalent to that of the annual carbon offset purchase and using the money to reduce the districtâ€™s own greenhouse gases. The fund would be spent only on board-approved projects that would meet legal requirements for carbon neutrality.
Lento said he hopes the government will agree that the district is still adhering to laws requiring it to reduce carbon emissions. â€œWeâ€™re not ignoring legislation, weâ€™re simply interpreting it in a way thatâ€™s more beneficial for our kids,â€� the release says.
An Education Ministry spokesman said the ministry wasnâ€™t aware of Southeast Kootenayâ€™s plan or of any other school districts headed in the same direction. Lento said he has heard that several municipalities are contemplating similar action this year.
His colleague, Cranbrook trustee Chris Johns, said the districtâ€™s plan would not only reduce carbon emissions but also save money in the long term. For example, he pointed to Mount Baker secondary, the largest school in the district, which has an inefficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system.
â€œWeâ€™re just feeding dollar bills into the heat system and that means weâ€™re going to have to keep feeding money to the Pacific Carbon Trust when our school kids and teachers are being asked to do more with less,â€� he said in a release. â€œItâ€™s ludicrous.â€�
The board said it wrote to former education minister George Abbott in November 2011 and February 2012 asking that school districts be allowed to use carbon offsets money to improve their own facilities. But Lento said the only response was a letter saying government was reviewing the issue.
In 2012, the province announced it was giving school districts a break with an annual $5-million grant program intended to offset their costs and help them with electrical and mechanical improvements to schools. But the money was distributed based on project proposals, and Southeast Kootenay only qualified for $9,765 in 2013-14.