Friday 12 March 2021

And to the Ombudsman again

Ages back, MoT came out with some ridiculous work on the merits of subsidising electric vehicles. 

Treasury provided some rather decent advice about it, released under OIA at the time, but with some substantial bits excised because it was still under active policy consideration. 

Treasury were not fans of these measures, recognising that transport is already covered by the ETS and that petrol emissions are consequently already accounted for. 

In January, I emailed the section manager who was responsible for the advice asking whether I could now see the redacted bits. I got an email bounceback because it had shifted to a different manager, so I immediately emailed him.

He replied 12 February saying it would have to be an OIA request and asking whether I wanted to go ahead with it. I replied that I would, and appended one additional and separate request:

Thanks for your reply. Please do send my request in the prior email through into the OIA system.

As additional and separate request, please provide any discussion by Treasury of the relative merits of regulations pertaining to car emissions, including but not limited to bans on the import of petrol-powered vehicles, or fuel economy or emission standards, as compared to relying on the binding cap in the Emissions Trading Scheme for emissions that will entirely be covered by the binding cap in the Emissions Trading Scheme. The matters sought would include any advice provided by Treasury in these areas, Treasury internal discussion documents, and draft work comparing the costs of these various alternative measures.

Please treat this as a separate request, so that if one of the requests takes longer than the other, it won’t hold both of them up. 

So that all went into the OIA system.

Today I received a reply saying that everything would be delayed for consultation until it was kinda useless for the Climate Commission's consultation process. Recall that the Climate Commission proposes banning petrol vehicle imports. And recall further that the Climate Commission refuses to share its workings until after its final report, and potentially after government has legislated to effect its recommendations. I've written on the importance of this stuff being shared

And so today this went to the Ombudsman (with a couple minor bits redacted):

Dear Office of the Ombudsman,

Submissions on the Climate Change Commission’s draft report are due on 28 March.

The Climate Change Commission has proposed bans on imports of petrol vehicles.

Treasury produced advice years ago on work by the Ministry of Transport relating to the costs and benefits of such policies.

Treasury has extended the deadlines on these OIAs until such time as they will not be able to affect the submissions process. The first has been extended to 24 March. We might be able to incorporate the relevant information from that request at that point, but it severely hinders the submissions process. We are already circulating our draft submission to others for feedback and for them to consider in their own submissions.

The second OIA is extended until April. Treasury here began by misstating the date of my request – I requested the information on 12 February, not 19 February. I have attached my email of 12 February to [redacted] making the request.

I have a question on how dates should here be considered.

My first request was sent to Treasury on 28 January. I sent it to the relevant section manager. You can see that in the email trail. He replied 12 February saying it would have to be treated as an OIA request, and I replied immediately asking that it be sent into the system. Does the clock on this stuff really then start on 12 February? Or does it start when I made the initial request? [And I have no clue where 19 February came from].

In any case, I argue there is compelling public interest in this information being available in sufficient time for it to feed into submissions in the Climate Change Commission’s process.

Many thanks for any assistance your office might provide.

It's getting just a little frustrating.

The Climate Commission refuses to share its workings. We suspect that they've screwed the pitch with assumptions about the costs of EV transitions that don't mesh with reality, and that there's something off with their economic modelling that seems to have very little sensitivity of GDP to carbon prices. But we can't know for sure. And who knows what other mistakes might be hiding in there. Piles of it are in Excel. 

The Ministry for the Environment, who stewards the ETS, has a CE who fronts by Zoom to a meeting of economists at Waikato last week and manages to have an internet failure preventing her answering my question on why they support weird bolt-on regulation to address equity issues when they could just provide a carbon dividend out of the money the government collects when it auctions units.

And when I ask Treasury for the work they'd previously done on the costs of EV subsidies, it all gets punted until after the submissions deadline for the Climate Commission.  

Is this really good enough for a policy process of this scope?

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