Australian leader rules out generators paying for pollution

AP News
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Posted: Dec 06, 2016 7:47 PM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister on Wednesday ruled out making power companies pay for greenhouse gas pollution they create — a policy option that angered conservative government lawmakers when proposed by a minister this week.

Malcolm Turnbull said a review of the government's climate change policies next year aimed at achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030 would not include any measures that would inflate electricity bills.

"We are not going to take any steps that will increase the already too high cost of energy for Australian families and businesses," Turnbull told reporters.

The government swept to power at elections in 2013 with a promise to abolish an unpopular carbon tax that was levied against the nation's biggest industrial polluters. Had the former center-left Labor Party government won that election, the tax would have transitioned into an emissions trading scheme in which polluters would pay for carbon credits at a price set by market forces.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg angered some colleagues on Monday when he said the policy review would consider making electricity generators pay for their pollution through a so-called emissions intensity scheme. Under such a scheme, generators who create above-average emissions for the amount of power they produce would have to buy carbon credits from generators whose emissions are below average or face penalties imposed by the government.

One of the government's most conservative lawmakers, Cory Bernardi, described the policy as "one of the dumbest things I've heard in politics in recent times."

Frydenberg said on Wednesday, after Turnbull spoke, that an emissions intensity scheme would never be part of government policy.

Labor, which advocates making polluters pay for their emissions, accused Turnbull of buckling to the more conservative lawmakers in his coalition.

Turnbull lost the leadership of his conservative Liberal Party in 2009 when he advocated that his party support the then Labor government's plan to introduce an emissions trading scheme. He became prime minister last year when he agreed with his party's rightwing powerbrokers not to tamper with climate policy.

Australia has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The government replaced the carbon tax in 2014 with a 2.55 billion Australian dollar ($1.9 billion) fund paid by taxpayers to give incentives to polluters to reduce their emissions. Only AU$400 million is left.

Environmentalist John Connor, chief executive of the Australian Climate Institute, said the fund could not achieve Australia's reduction target.

Australia is among the world's worst greenhouse gas polluters on a per capita basis because of its heavy reliance on abundant reserves of cheap coal for electricity generation.