VICTORIA – A delayed, discredited, but highly-anticipated environmental audit of the British Columbia government’s carbon-cutting program by auditor general John Doyle says the pollution-reduction plan isn’t credible.
The audit drew immediate fire from the government and operators of the program who accused Doyle of ignoring evidence and lacking proper expertise to examine the carbon-trading system.
“We concluded that the provincial government has not met its objective of achieving a carbon neutral public sector,” said Doyle’s report.
“An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government,” was released Wednesday after a series of earlier leaks prompted the Speaker of the legislature to delay its release for one day.
Doyle’s report said Crown-owned Pacific Carbon Trust, formed to ensure the province reaches its goal of carbon neutrality, has not purchased credible carbon offsets and it paid above-market rates for the carbon offsets it purchased.
“Government is reporting on its efforts to reduce emissions and its progress in achieving a carbon neutral government,” stated the audit. “However, the PCT has not provided sufficient information in its reporting about the cost and quality of its purchases.”
But barely an hour after the release of Doyle’s report, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake called a news conference to dismiss its conclusions.
“We reject entirely his conclusion that the offsets he examined are not credible,” said Lake.
He noted that international carbon experts have endorsed B.C.’s carbon purchasing and measuring methods, while one of Doyle’s independent expert advisers, University of Ottawa Prof. Stewart Elgie, quit due to concerns about the audit’s direction.
The Pacific Carbon Trust board of governors issued a statement critical of the report just as Doyle’s audit was released.
“The board of directors takes its governance responsibilities extremely seriously and we are concerned by the findings and statements in this report,” said the statement. “We are most concerned that the conclusions are contrary to the auditing opinions provided by eight other independent expert bodies that reviewed these carbon offset projects.”
The statement said the board was concerned that eight other independent entities reviewed and found B.C.’s offsets are credible. The directors also expressed concern that Doyle’s lead investigator told directors at the start of the audit that he considered the offset results weren’t credible.
Lead auditor Morris Sydor, who commented on the audit on behalf of Doyle, said he believed he was the person who raised the concerns with the carbon trust’s board of directors. Sydor, who described himself as a tenacious auditor, said he recalls telling members of the board he was looking for answers.
The audit examined two offset projects, the Kootenay-area Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project and the Dawson Creek-area Encana Underbalanced Drilling Project.
“We found that both offset projects started without showing that the value of offsets was considered to the extent that it provided the incentive for going ahead — an important consideration for demonstrating the eligibility of offset projects,” stated the report. “We also found that neither project had a baseline that could be supported.”
Sydor said the office of the auditor general was prepared for the political and industry backlash the report has received after discovering last summer there appeared to be an orchestrated campaign underway to discredit the audit.
“Basically, it was an attempt to try and negate the impacts of our report before it actually came out,” he said. “We were not surprised when the information started coming out that letters had been sent out indicating concern about issues we were examining and whether we were qualified or not.”
Leaked letters that surfaced before the report’s release showed that carbon trading experts were concerned about Doyle’s report, calling it useless and saying it created controversy where none exists.
The Speaker of the B.C. legislature Bill Barisoff held back Tuesday’s scheduled release of Doyle’s audit, citing a possible breach of Parliament involving distribution of the report prior to Barisoff’s office receiving the document.
Independent MLA Bob Simpson said he received an embargoed copy of the report from the office of the auditor general on Monday and New Democrat attorney general critic Leonard Krog said he was almost certain the NDP also received a copy.
Doyle’s office issued a statement saying he regularly shares embargoed copies of his reports with who he considers interested members of the legislature.
New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming said the overall thrust of the report questions the use of public money to help private businesses purchase carbon offsets.
“That has never passed the public-nod test,” he said.
Doyle’s report makes six recommendations, including: that the Pacific Carbon Trust provide greater transparency about the cost effectiveness of the offsets it purchases.
“For the projects examined in this audit, we found that the Pacific Carbon Trust had to pay more than market rates for both offset projects,” said the audit.