What does The Hon Dr Nick Smith, Minister for Climate Change Issues, say when the Greens accuse him of subsidising greenhouse gas polluters. Well it seems he denies it and he produces instructive soundbites of spin. I am informed that at Wellington’s Oxfam election and climate change debate he said that the NZ Aluminium Smelter Ltd’s operation at Tiwai Point is the only aluminium smelter in the world exposed to a carbon price.
He has used this soundbite a few times. For example, in Parliament on 29 September 2011:
“..the aluminium smelter in Bluff is the only aluminium smelter in the world to face any price at all for its greenhouse gas emissions”.
“the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter in Bluff, it is the only one in the world that pays any face at all for carbon pricing” ((NB By ‘pay any face’ I think he means ‘face any price’))
“…the Bluff smelter, on 1 July next year, will be the very first to face a carbon price for its pollution. The European scheme excludes aluminium smelters until 2013…”
Does Nick’s soundbite stand up to scrutiny? Not very well…
The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, which started in 2005, excludes the European aluminium smelters until 2013. But it included electricity generation from 2005. And aluminium smelting is very electricity intensive. As the International Energy Agency says: “Although the primary aluminium sector is not directly covered by the (EU) ETS, the impacts of the CO2 price are felt through increases in electricity prices” (p 8). (IEA,(2008),’Climate Policy and Carbon Leakage – Impacts of the European Emissions Trading Scheme on Aluminium’)
Another example of a Smith soundbite is saying that the overly-generous free allocation of emissions units to industry in the NZETS is not a cost to the taxpayer. For example: Parliament on 29 September 2011:
“This member and other members make the gross error of trying to claim that not exposing industries or consumers to the full price of carbon over all their emissions is somehow a subsidy. A subsidy implies that there is a cost to taxpayers. That is not true…”
Unfortunately for Dr Smith, that’s not what the Auditor General, Lynn Provost, says in her accounting and auditing advice for emissions units in the public sector:
“NZUs have a market value and the issue of NZUs without charge to participants is an expense to the Government and creates a liability.”
Sorry Dr Smith, the Tiwai Point smelter is not the only aluminium smelter exposed to a carbon price in an ETS. And the European smelters probably pay a higher carbon price through their electricity costs as the Tiwai Point smelter owner is compensated for electricity costs as well as emissions through excessive free allocation of emissions units.
Sorry Dr Smith, you can’t just create and give away a permit to emit greenhouse gases that has a clear market value and say there is no cost to taxpayers as Treasury did not write out a cheque. The Auditor General says there is a cost to taxpayers of giving emissions units away to emitters.