Environment Minister Bruce Fitch is opposed to the idea of the Environmental Trust Fund paying for a new institute to research the shale gas industry.
The Alward government is establishing a new research institute that will study shale gas science and monitor how the industry develops in the province, based on the recommendation of Louis LaPierre, a University of Moncton biologist, who recommended the idea last year.
Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the Environmental Trust Fund, which comes from bottle deposits that are not redeemed by New Brunswickers, is one possible source of funding for the institute.
'When people were talking about how to pay for the energy institute, that idea was floated out. I wasn't all that keen on it, because to me it's just not really the intent of what the Environmental Trust Fund's original purpose was.' — Environment Minister Bruce Fitch
However, the province’s environment minister said that is not what the trust fund was designed for and Fitch said he believes the institute’s funding should come from regular government spending.
"When people were talking about how to pay for the energy institute, that idea was floated out. I wasn't all that keen on it, because to me it's just not really the intent of what the Environmental Trust Fund's original purpose was," Fitch said.
The Environmental Trust Fund exists to fund small-scale community projects in areas such as environmental conservation and awareness.
ETF surplus will pass $20M
The Department of Environment and Local Government’s 2011-12 annual report indicated the trust fund had $9.1 million carried over from the previous year and it accumulated another $9.4 million in that year. The provincial government only spent $4.4 million on projects in that year, so the 2011-12 surplus was $14.1 million.
In the 2012-13 budget, the trust fund’s projected revenue was $10.9 million and $4.5 million was anticipated to be spent this year. So the projected surplus by the end of the fiscal year would be $20.5 million.
Fitch said many of his Progressive Conservative colleagues covet the trust fund's money for their pet projects.
"It's amazing how many people talk to me and say, 'Why don't we take that out of the Environmental Trust Fund?’" Fitch said.
Green Party Leader David Coon said the money should pay for more environmental protection and awareness, which he said was the whole point of the trust fund.
"Everyone knows we need some investment in those activities so I don't know why they'd be holding back whatsoever," Coon said.
The environment minister is hinting that he may start doling out more of the trust fund’s cash.
"It is certainly something that we are looking at as a way to alleviate some of the requests that were coming in," he said.