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OPINION: Industry should help pay for impact of climate change

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Sarnia recently approved a $500,000 yearly levy on industry to help pay for the Donohue Bridge.

That’s half of what city staff had proposed, and far less than the $2 million one councillor sought.

But why stop there? As Sarnia confronts the impact of climate change with an empty war chest I, for one, believe Sarnia’s petrochemical industry should be contributing to the effort.

Local refineries and petrochemical plants account for 40% of Canada’s petrochemical output and are among some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the nation.

It’s naïve to believe carbon dioxide and methane emitted locally isn’t a part of the problem, one that’s seeing Canada heat up at twice the global average.

Sarnians are thankful for these companies. They provide good-paying jobs and fueled rapid municipal growth though the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. They are still the backbone of the local economy.

But it’s also a fact that while these companies generate wealth for workers and shareholders alike, the greenhouse gases they emit are contributing to the extreme storms, drought and floods that have, the World Economic Forum contends, surpassed nuclear war and cyber attacks as the greatest threat to human civilization.

Locally, we’re feeling the impact.

Air temperature increases in the Great Lakes region are outpacing the rest of North America.

Last year’s freakishly cold and rainy spring forced local farmers to leave 10,000 acres of fields unplanted. The year before that a weather-related fungus damaged corn yields.

More heavy rain and snow events, already punishing the city’s crumbling infrastructure, are predicted to intensify in coming decades. A climate expert recently said extreme summer heat and variable freeze-thaw winters will tax Sarnia’s resources like we’ve never seen before.

Sarnia is committed to confronting climate change. Council declared a climate emergency last year and staff is working on a climate change adaptation plan.

But where will the money come from? A levy charged to industry would help.

But don’t they already pay property taxes? Sarnia’s entire industrial base collectively pays about $5 million a year in property taxes, which is far less than the commercial class, and one-tenth of what residential homeowners pay.

At the same time they’re posting massive profits.

Calgary-based Imperial Oil, for example, returned $512 million to shareholders through share purchases and dividends in the third quarter of 2019 alone.

Shell’s parent Royal Dutch Shell is, by revenue, the second largest publicly traded oil-and-gas company in the world.

Is it unreasonable for Sarnia, as a host city, to ask all of them to contribute a little more?

Sarnia needs at least $30 million to repair its aging infrastructure and battered shorelines, and that gap will widen if the impact of climate change intensifies as predicted.

It’s only fitting that the industries contributing to this new reality also help pick up the tab.

 

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