Thursday, October 24, 2019

Climate Change: More hidden "features"

Apart from the agriculture sellout, today's ETS bill contains a few other unpleasant hidden features. Firstly, there's another secrecy clause (s30GF), requiring the auction monitor to "keep confidential all information that comes into its knowledge when performing its functions or exercising its powers". This echoes the existing secrecy clause applying to the EPA, and so will also override the Official Information Act. But as with that clause, it seems like overkill: existing OIA withholding grounds already protect any legitimate interest in confidentiality, while the clause goes well beyond them in declaring everything done by an agency to be secret. Not even the SIS or GCSB has such protection - but no doubt, based on these examples, they'll be demanding it. Meanwhile, I can't fail to notice that this just keeps happening: virtually every significant bill has a clause chipping away at transparency in one way or another with no justification for it whatsoever. The image is of a government which is now actively hostile to the public's right to know.

Worse, the bill doesn't just continue pollution subsidies - it undoes all the progress that has been made so far on removing them. At present, the ETS awarded polluters a 90% or 60% free allocation in 2012, dropping by 1% per year after that (so in 2020, the free allocation rate would be 82% or 52%, depending on whether an industry claims to be highly or moderately exposed). The new bill resets the base year to 2020, with a 90% or 60% free allocation, dropping after that. So polluters will get a higher subsidy than they did before the bill passed, effectively reversing the incentive to reduce emissions. Worse, it appear that after the law has changed, polluters will be able to claim for the free allocation they didn't get for the previous year, and the EPA could give them back up to four years. So its a recipe for windfall profits for our worst polluters.

I'd hope we can get both of these changed at select committee. But if the Zero Carbon Bill is anything to go by, the government will just give the finger to us again. Which means that if we want a better law, we will need a better government.