The new British Columbia government tackles climate change policy and controversies: Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Carbon Tax neutrality

As the smoke from over 100  forest fires enveloped British Columbia during the summer of 2017, a new brand of climate change and environmental policy emerged after June 29, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) government assumed power , thanks to a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party Caucus.  Premier John Horgan appointed Vancouver-area MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government Employees and Service Employees’ Union, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, with a mandate letter which directed Heyman to, among other priorities, re-establish a Climate Leadership team,  set a new 2030 GHG reduction target, expand and increase the existing carbon tax, and “employ every tool available to defend B.C.’s interests in the face of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”  A separate mandate letter to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, directed the Minister to create a roadmap for the province’s energy future, to consider all Liquified Natural Gas proposals in light of the impact on climate change goals, to freeze hydro rates and to  “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market.” In addition, the government “will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Some notes on each of these priorities:

Re the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan The recommendations of the B.C. Climate Leadership Team were ignored by the Liberal government when delivered in 2016.  In mid-September 2017, the reasons for that became clear, as reported by the National Observer , DeSmog Canada, Rabble.ca and Energy Mix . According to the National Observer,  “provincial officials travelled to Calgary to hold five rounds of secret meetings over three months in the boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Representatives from Alberta-based oil giants Encana and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) are shown on the list of participants meeting with B.C.’s ministry of natural gas development.”  In the article for DeSmog Canada, Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker state that the Climate Leadership process was a stunning example of institutional corruption: “what can only now be characterized as a pretend consultation process was acted out publicly….  The whole charade also represents an abuse of the climate leadership team’s time and a mockery of B.C.’s claims to leadership during the Paris climate talks, not to mention a tremendous waste of public resources.”  The documents underlying the revelations were obtained under Freedom of Information requests by Corporate Mapping Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Shannon Daub is Associate Director.

Re the  Carbon Tax:  The Budget Update released on September 11 states: “The Province will act to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the carbon tax rate on April 1, 2018 by $5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, while increasing the climate action tax credit to support low and middle income families. The requirement for the carbon tax to be revenue-neutral is eliminated so carbon tax revenues can support families and fund green initiatives that help us address our climate action commitments.” For context, see “B.C. overturns carbon tax revenue-neutrality”  (Sept. 22) by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions;  for reaction, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. or the Pembina Institute .

Re the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline:  On October 2, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal  is scheduled to start the longest hearing in its history, for the consolidated challenges to the National Energy Board and Federal Cabinet approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project.  The government has applied for intervenor status, and in August  hired environmental lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice  Thomas Berger as an external legal advisor on the matter.  West Coast Environmental Law blogged, “See you in court, Kinder Morgan” , which provides a thorough summary of the 17 cases against the TransMountain expansion; WCEL has also published a Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from Kinder Morgan, which goes into the legal arguments in more detail.  The NEB website provides all official regulatory documents. Ecojustice is also involved in the complex court challenge.

Re the Site C Dam:  In early August, the B.C. government announced a review of the Site C project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.  The Preliminary Inquiry Report was released on September 20,  calling for more information before passing judgement on whether BC Hydro should complete the project. The Inquiry Panel also finds “a reasonable estimate of the cost to terminate the project and remediate the site” would be $1.1 billion, based on the figures provided by BC Hydro and Deloitte consultants. The Inquiry report is  summarized by  CBC . Next steps:  a series of round-the-province hearings and final recommendations to government to be released in a final report on November 1.

After years of protests about Site C, evidence against it seems to be piling up. A series of reports from the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, begun in 2016, have addressed the range of issues involved in the controversial project : First Nations issues; environmental impacts; regulatory process; greenhouse gas emissions; and economics.  In April, an overview summary of these reports appeared  in Policy Options as  “Site C: It’s not too late to hit Pause”,  stating that Site C is “neither the greenest nor the cheapest option, and makes a mockery of Indigenous Rights in the process.”   On the issue of Indigenous Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for a halt on construction in August, pending a full review of how Site C will affects Indigenous land.

If Site C is a good project, it’s time for Trudeau to trot out the evidence” in  iPolitics (Sept. 17), calls Site C “an acid test for Trudeau’s promise of evidence-based policy” and an environmental and economic disaster in the making.  The iPolitics article summarizes the findings of a submission to the BC Utilities Commission review by Robert McCullough, who concluded that BC Hydro electricity demand forecasts overestimate demand by 30%, that its cost overruns on the project will likely hit $1.7 to $4.3 billion, and that wind and geothermal are cleaner alternatives to the project. McCullough’s conclusions were partly based on his review of the technical report by Deloitte LLP, commissioned by the Inquiry.

 

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