Industries in Northeastern Ontario are mostly silent about how much they pay in carbon taxes
After years of battling with the federal government over carbon prices, the province is now collecting carbon taxes for the first time, which are expected to total $131 million this year.
The Ford government has yet to say how it will spend the money it collects from major industrial emitters that emit at least 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
None of the major industrial emitters in northeastern Ontario would disclose how much they have paid in carbon tax since its introduction in 2017 under the previous Liberal government’s cap and trade system.
But at least one would like to see the province return some of the money raised to help businesses prepare for a carbon-free future.
Belgian company Carmeuse operates a lime kiln just off Highway 17 near Blind River, which has had fairly consistent emissions over the past decade and reports that it produced some 117,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020.
Gem Gercek, the company’s area operations manager, says that although they burn coal and natural gas in the furnace, 65 percent of the carbon dioxide they produce is inherent in the process of turning limestone into lime.
“We have no resources or control to reduce those emissions,” he said.
“If you want to produce lime, you have to produce CO2.”
He says this means that ever-increasing carbon taxes will take a bigger bite out of their profits, that Carmeuse could lose business to competitors outside of Ontario and Blind River’s 40 local jobs could become less stable.
“The tax we pay increases significantly from year to year,” Gercek said.
“And this year is the worst.”
Gercek says he would like the Ontario government to return some of the revenue from the carbon tax to help the industry decarbonise.
In the lime kiln this would mean that the carbon dioxide would be collected and concentrated and then stored underground.
“So what we have now is more of a stick, but there’s no carrot in place yet,” he said.
“And there’s no return on the carbon tax where we could reinvest in the business so we could decarbonize and lower our costs while continuing to compete.”
Some of the major industrial emitters in the Northeast did not respond at all to CBC’s questions, including Sault Ste. Marie’s Algoma steel, by far the largest emitter in the region and one of the largest in the province, emitting 3.8 million tons of CO2 in 2020.
That’s less than 4.1 million tons in 2017, and greenhouse gas emissions from other large industrial facilities in the Northeast have also fallen in recent years.
Vale’s Copper Cliff smelter emitted 346,717 tonnes in 2020, up from more than 400,000 in 2011.
The Kapuskasing pulp and paper mill, now operated by GreenFirst Forest Products, has seen CO2 emissions cut by more than half in the same time, reporting 121,838 tonnes in 2020.
It’s a similar story at Domtar’s paper mill in Espanola, which pumped out more than 600,000 tons in 2020, though most of that comes from biomass generation and is counted separately by the province.
Emissions at Glencore’s Falconbridge Smelter have remained fairly stable over the past decade, at between 110,000 and 130,000 tons per year.