Cementing a level playing field goal of industry

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins is once again lashing out at the provincial carbon tax, claiming it threatens to kill the cement industry.

However, Bob Cooper, president of Lafarge Canada’s Western Canadian cement division, said Cummins’ claims of the industry’s demise are overstated and his proposed solution to the problem — to scrap the tax outright — isn’t what the industry is after.

Cummins said exports of B.C.-made cement to the U.S. have plunged since the tax was introduced, while imports of American cement have risen from 6.5 per cent of the domestic market in 2007 to 34 per cent in the first half of 2012.

“The BC Liberals’ unfair carbon tax has forced B.C.’s three largest cement-kilns to reduce operations by 50 to 60 per cent capacity,” Cummins said.

Actually, Cooper said, Lafarge’s Kamloops cement plant and its operation in the Richmond area are both operating at about 75 per cent capacity.

“Back in the true recession, we were down to about 50 [per cent] and, as demand has increased, of course utilization has increased,” Cooper told Kamloops This Weel.

Cooper said the company has shifted some its operations to keep numbers up.

One of its cement kilns in Seattle was shut down and that business moved to the Richmond operation.

In Kamloops, however, numbers have remained stable without that extra help, Cooper said.

“Kamloops supports the oil and gas industry, it supports the local economy whether you’re looking at Kelowna or the Interior and a little bit of the western Alberta province,” he said.

“So, for Kamloops it’s a good niche market. It’s always had a slightly higher utilization that what you would see on the coast of B.C.”

Cooper said the tax has had a financial impact on B.C. cement producers that has given U.S. companies an advantage in the province, but he believes that issue would be better solved by requiring those companies to also pay the tax if they want to do business in B.C.

“All we want is level the playing field. We’re not against the carbon tax, we just want to make sure it’s applicable to everyone that’s selling cement in B.C. because we think it’s only fair,” he said.

“What we don’t want is the B.C. companies to be penalized.”

Cooper said the industry has been working with the provincial government and has made a number of suggestions for improvement.

According to the Cement Association of Canada, more than half the carbon-dioxide emissions produced when cement is made are unavoidable.

When limestone, the primary ingredient in cement, is heated, it produces carbon dioxide.

The industry also relies on coal and other carbon-intensive fossil fuels to heat its kilns.


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