In late September this year, a who's who of climate policy experts, industry reps and provincial bureaucrats gathered at the swanky Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel on Victoria's inner harbour, just across the water from B.C.'s legislature buildings.
The purpose of their two-day retreat — which went unreported by all Canadian media, including The Tyee — was to evaluate the province's low carbon fuel standard, a policy that has positioned B.C. in the global vanguard of climate change action.
In theory the standard will make all gasoline and diesel sold in the province better for the climate and help us transition to a clean energy economy.
Yet the mood at the Pollution Probe-hosted conference, which drew the majority of its participants from the oil and gas industry, was far from celebratory.
"Industry was challenging the fuel standard, saying it's unworkable," Alison Bailie, a Pembina Institute policy advisor who attended told The Tyee.
Perhaps more surprising is that Bailie herself, and other prominent green groups, are also reluctant to support the initiative.
With the legislation set to go into effect next year, they see major design flaws that could render its clean energy goals unlikely, if not impossible, to achieve.
Those flaws, they argue, give big handouts to Alberta's oil sands industry and entrench B.C.'s addiction to some of the world's most polluting fuel.
"It's hard to have a position on B.C.'s low carbon fuel standard," Bailie said. "We can say we're supportive of the objectives, but the way it's implemented can have a profound impact on whether it does lead to greenhouse gas reductions."
Schwarzenegger gives high praise
In 2007, B.C. became the second jurisdiction in the world after California to adopt a low carbon fuel standard, and optimism couldn't have been higher.
"With your willingness to be innovative in clean technology, you are poised to start British Columbia's new gold rush," then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared at a Vancouver economic summit that year.
The goal of B.C.'s fuel standard, modeled after similar Sunshine State legislation, remains unchanged after four years. It strives by 2020 to make all gasoline and diesel sold in the province 10 per cent less damaging to the climate than it was in 2010.
Not only that, say its proponents, but the policy would also provide powerful incentives to adopt cleaner, more renewable fuel sources, creating a veritable "gold rush" of new technology and investment.
The fuel standard is based on a fairly straightforward premise.
If global warming is ever to get solved, it will mean drastic cuts in emissions from transportation, a sector responsible for 36 per cent of all greenhouse gases released in B.C. in 2008.
One obvious way to reduce them is by making people drive less‚ an objective of B.C.'s carbon tax, which increased the price of gasoline and diesel.