European Union Wants to Tax Heavy Crude from Oil Sands
May 10, 2013 Leave a comment
The European Union is falling apart. It is desperate for money. The bureaucrats in Brussels will tax anything they can.
Now the EU wants to modify its fuel quality directives, so that refiners who use oil that is “too dirty” (according to bureaucrats) must pay a tax.
Joe Oliver, the Natural Resource Minister of Canada, thinks this amounts to specifically targeted tax on Canadian oil-sands product. He says Canada will sue the EU at the World Trade Organization if they implement the changes, because the oil-sands crude isn’t any “dirtier” than many other crude imports which are not subject to the tax.
Firstly, let me note the hypocrisy when an official from Harper’s government whines about tariffs, while Harper’s government loves tariffs. “Oh yeah, taxing our stuff is bad; taxing your stuff is okay.” Typical government knavery.
On a more general level, yes the EU fuel quality directives and its associated penalties are bad for the economy. They are bad for Europe and bad for Canada. They reduce production of the taxed good and divert resources to government approved fuels. The government is in principle incapable of knowing to what extent a given quality of oil should be used.
Oil sands production is “dirty”, sure. The industry has a lot of flaws. Really, the CO2 emissions aren’t even a big deal, although that’s what everyone focuses on. But the environmental situation is still very screwed up, because Alberta is essentially a mini-petro-state. Property rights and laws of tort can rarely protect the environment because virtually all the pollution takes place on government land.
Even so, that is true of most oil. There is very little “clean” oil where you just turn on the tap and get light, sweet, succulent crude with minimal impact on the earth. Most of it is heavy and sour and difficult to get. Due to inept government regulation and interference with property rights, its production is environmentally problematic. So the European tax seems to be not just destructive, but arbitrary.
If the WTO agrees with Canada that the fuel directives constitutes an unjustified tax, they can’t force them to change it. It just means the Canadian government can put their own tariffs up to retaliate. That is bad for everyone. It would be better to just accept one dumb tax over which one has no controlnthan implement another dumb tax to go along with it. If the Canadian oil producer finds it harder to sell its oil, that’s already bad enough. Why should the Canadian consumer also be punished? It makes no sense, and only a politician or a shyster would advocate this.
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