[Editor’s note: From time to time MasterResource will interview leading scholars in the free-market energy and environmental tradition. This is our first interview.]
MR: Ken, describe your current position at the Fraser Institute in Canada.
KG: I am Senior Director of Fraser’s Centre for Natural Resources, which studies public policy involving natural resource management. Primarily, we study mining and energy policy, but there are elements of environmental and even agricultural policy that fall under the aegis of my Center.
MR: What is the mission of Fraser?
KG: The informal way I describe our mission is that we study public policy and educate Canadians (and global audiences as well) about the impact that public policy choices have on people’s lives.
Those impacts might be at the level of the individual, where people want to see how schools rank in order to pick a school for their children; the impacts might be at the household level where we show people what a proposed or existing public policy might cost their household on an annual basis; they might be the effects a policy will have on their provincial competitiveness or fiscal stability; and it might be at the global level where we rank the countries of the world on economic freedom, or the hospitality of global jurisdictions to mining investment.
MR. How do you do that?
KG: By writing and commissioning policy studies and then writing derivative articles; opinion columns; blog posts (I blog for the Huffington Post Canada and have been known to do so for Master Resource and elsewhere as well). We also disseminate by giving presentations to the general public; speaking at conferences; testifying to legislative and regulatory bodies; and giving seminars to students all across Canada.
MR. So you work with students?
KG: Yes. We just had a spectacular student seminar in Vancouver attended by 350 students from British Columbia and across Canada for an all-day seminar and discussion of public policy issues including the legalization of prostitution, the legalization of drugs, public finances, demographic issues in China, and energy policy in Canada. That the students gave up a beautiful Saturday in British Columbia for an exploration of public policy was very gratifying.
Summing up, the Fraser Institute is Canada’s top-rated think tank and ranks 22nd out of all the world’s think tanks in a ranking published by the University of Pennsylvania.
MR: Is this your second tour of duty at Fraser?
KG: Yes, it is. I worked for Fraser from 2002–2005, directing the Institute’s Centre for the Study of Risk, Regulation, and Environment. At that time, I was in Vancouver, British Columbia, working out of the head office.
We loved living in Vancouver, despite the somewhat rainy climate. We lived downtown, surrounded by great restaurants, pubs, clubs, and so on. This time around, I’m based in Calgary, and work partly from home, and partly at a small office we maintain in the downtown core. Calgary’s a very different climate for us, what with the cold prairie winters and cool, incredibly beautiful summers.
My wife and I really love Canada, and the Canadian people as well, and we have hopes of a very long “tour” this time around, perhaps through to my retirement into part-time work.
MR: How do Canadian environmental issues compare with those in the U.S.?
KG: That’s a fairly complicated question. Environmental issues in Canada and the U.S. are very similar, partly because the two countries went through similar economic growth patterns, caused the same kind of environmental problems, and have generally harmonized their environmental regulations.
So like the U.S., Canada has largely cleaned up its air and water, has stabilized its forestry, has established species protection, has set aside large parks, wilderness areas, etc. There are a few unique issues, such as whether or not farmed salmon is a threat to Pacific salmon – salmon are particularly revered, especially in Western Canada.
Another hot button topic in today’s environmental debates are pipelines to move oil from Alberta (a prairie province east of British Columbia) to the east and west coasts of Canada for export to other markets outside of the US. Still another hot topic is the issue of whether or not Canada should export freshwater in bulk to the United States.
MR: What are the big issues now?
Currently the hottest environmental issues overlap heavily with energy policy: the development of the oil sands; the construction of East/West pipeline capacity, rail transport of oil, tanker transport of oil, etc. Canada is very much a resource export power, and the environmental problems attendant on energy and mineral production dominate environmental discussions here.
There’s also a focus on ‘green’ energy, although a fiasco in Ontario over that subject has cooled the ardor of Canadians for more green energy. Canadians have a very high quality of life, and, not surprisingly, they have very strong environmental amenity values. At the same time, they’re fairly pragmatic, understanding that the country is a natural resource power, and that nature’s not going to go completely undisturbed.
And, Canada is an international powerhouse in the mining sector, with mining constituting a major contributor to Canada’s economy. Naturally, that brings out the anti-mining people both in Canada and elsewhere.
Finally, one of the differences between Canada and the U.S. involves the rights of Canada’s aboriginal “First Nation” people who claim land rights throughout western Canada, and who were recently empowered by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that required they be “consulted” when any project might influence the lands they claim. That’s often a fight over environmental impact as much as anything else.
MR: And energy issues in Canada versus the U.S.?
KG: Here there are more differences. The biggest between the U.S. and Canada is that Canada’s long been a major energy exporter, overwhelmingly to the U.S., which has been one of the world’s largest importers. That’s changing with the U.S. oil boom, which has added tricky questions to Canada’s energy policy direction. Canada exports oil, gas, and electricity to the U.S. in large quantities, and has hopes of doubling its oil sand production in a decade or so.
That’s one reason why the country is so focused on the question of gaining pipeline capacity to the East and West coasts, as well as the building of Keystone XL to run oil-sand crude down to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Another difference is that Canada is a huge country with a population about the size of California’s, spread out mostly in a ribbon about 100 miles deep above the U.S. border.
It’s a cold weather country with very long transportation needs, hence Canada consumes a lot of energy in an international perspective, including on a per-capita basis. (As I write this from my home in Calgary, it’s currently -18 °C, or 0 °F for you non-metric types.
MR: Canada, like the U.S., has different political jurisdictions that regulate energy, right?
KG: Yes, but there are different approaches taken between the two countries. One of the biggest differences, and this may surprise many Americans, is that Canada is actually more “Federalist” when it comes to environmental and natural resource management. The provinces in Canada have nearly complete authority and autonomy in setting and implementing environmental policy.
The Canadian federal government has a much smaller role in energy and environmental policy than is the case in the United States. And, in keeping with the consensus-seeking nature of Canadian society, Canadian policy development is a more collaborative, and less combative process than it is in the United States.
Governments don’t simply promulgate rules and say “this is what you get” in Canada. Instead, governments tend to work with industry representatives to work out an acceptable control regime, which is then implemented by mutual agreement.
MR: You mentioned a ‘fiasco’ with green energy in Ontario. What happened there?
KG: Essentially, several governments in Ontario decided to “go green” through a combination of decommissioning coal-fired power plants and installing natural gas and wind power. There were scandals as building of gas-fired power plants to replace the coal-power base-load got caught up in politics.
Ross McKitrick, a Senior Fellow with the Fraser Institute did a study of the impacts of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, and found that the shift from coal to gas/wind had dramatically increased power prices in the province, shifting prices from around average for comparable North American jurisdictions to nearly the top of the pack in North America. The air pollution reductions achieved, Ross found, could have been had at one-tenth the cost of the “green energy” revolution” with existing retrofit technology.
Furthermore, Ross found, the wind blows out of phase with demand in Ontario 80% of the time, which means it’s sold down to the U.S. at a loss of $200 million a year. I wrote about the study here on Master Resource.
Part II tomorrow will cover Dr. Green’s earlier career and education, as well as advice to the next generation in the energy/environmental field.