Federal government releases “Backstop” policies for provinces not already pricing carbon – Comment period open till June 30

As part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the federal government had outlined the  Pan-Canadian Approach to Pricing Carbon Pollution,  a national carbon pricing system with mandatory benchmarks for each province.  Most provinces, representing 97% of the population, already have, or are in the process of designing, their own systems – British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia (in process).   On May 18, the Government of Canada addressed the remaining 3%  – most notably in the province of Saskatchewan –  with the release of its Technical Paper on the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop .

The “Backstop” refers to the fact that the policies  will only apply to provinces that do not have a carbon pricing system of their own  in place by 2018.  The proposal is composed of two parts:  a levy on fossil fuels, and a cap and trade system,  patterned after Alberta’s output-based allocation system, to price pollution from industry.  The levy system would include solid, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels: gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, coal and coke – and notably, aviation fuel.  Rates would initially be set for 2018 to 2022, progressing with $10 per tonne increments annually from $10 per tonne of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2018 to $50 per tonne in 2022.  The federal commits to  return direct revenues from the carbon levy to the jurisdiction of origin, but there is flexibility about how the provinces can redirect that revenue.

Public comments about the proposals are accepted until June 30, 2017, at Carbonpricing-tarificationcarbone@canada.ca and will be used to design the final carbon system and enabling legislation and regulations.  A sampling of reaction (below)  gives the government high marks for protecting Canadian competitiveness while reducing emissions.

“Is Canada’s carbon-pricing policy striking the right balance?” (May 18) in the Globe and Mail is a general affirmation of the federal proposals by three experts from varied points of view: Christopher Ragan (Chair of the Ecofiscal Commission), Peter Robinson (CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation), and  Steve Williams ( CEO of Suncor Energy).  A business response, in a press release from  TD Economics, covers similar ground: “ Feds Stick to their carbon- pricing guns” (May 18).  It states: “Botton Line: Carbon pricing is the most efficient way of reducing emissions, and today’s announcement should help Canada achieve meaningful emissions reductions. However, follow-through post-2022 will be crucial to achieving the 2030 target. The details of the carbon pricing backstop strike a good balance, providing clear incentives for emissions reduction while taking competitiveness issues into account, recognizing that a large industrial base cannot be “turned on a dime” and will continue to face competition from non-carbon priced jurisdictions.”

From environmental advocacy groups : In “Five things to know about Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan” , Clean Energy Canada highlights the similarities of the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies, and commends the output-based credit system, saying “there’s no question that a made-in-Alberta approach will also fit Saskatchewan’s economy very well.”  Clean Energy notes that the open question of distribution of revenues will cause much future debate, as will working out the details of the allocations for heavy industry, due by 2019.

The Pembina Institute response, “Ottawa taking carbon pricing cues from provinces”  also commends the output-based allocation system, and concludes:  “It’s worth taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come as a country – in large part due to the vision and ambition of provincial premiers – and to reflect on how to maintain this momentum despite choppy international waters.”

The elephant is the room that everyone is talking about is the anticipated court challenge from the government of Saskatchewan, whose Premier Brad Wall has stated that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to enact a federal carbon price, and who likened  the Technical paper to “a ransom note.”   The Globe and Mail summarizes the tension in “Ottawa, Saskatchewan brace for battle over carbon pricing” .  The Pembina Institute has published a  Q& A interview with Professor Nathalie Chalifour of the University of Ottawa, who also wrote  “The feds have every legal right to set a carbon price” in October 2016 in iPolitics .

Saskatchewan’s preferred route to emissions reduction was clearly laid out in its White Paper on Climate Change released in October 2016, which states: “We should be focusing our efforts on innovation and adaptation, not taxation” – “innovation” largely meaning Saskatchewan’s investment in carbon capture and storage.  And while CBC reports  that Saskatchewan environmental groups are backing the federal Technical paper, there is widespread support for the Premier’s opposition.  According to a CBC report in March, the  Saskatchewan Taxpayers Federation,  the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, and the United Steelworkers Local 5890, sent Prime Minister Trudeau a  joint letter outlining how a federal carbon tax would hurt Western Canada.  In  a CBC report on May 19, ‘You can’t buy a Prius and move dirt’: Critics say carbon tax will punish industry , those two industry groups make the case that  “there aren’t green alternatives for building roads, hauling trailers and working with heavy machinery.”

 

 

Bold recommendations from the Expert Panel on Modernization of the National Energy Board – but experts call for more

NEB_banner1-eIn November 2016, Canada’s  Minister of Natural Resources commissioned an  5-person Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board , mandated “ to position the NEB as a modern, efficient, and effective energy regulator and regain public trust”. After public hearings and submissions, the results are in, in the form of 26 recommendations released on May 15, in their report:  Forward,Together: Enabling Canada’s Clean, Safe, and Secure Energy Future .   Chief among the recommendations:  replace the current Board  with a new organization called the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission, to be based in Ottawa rather than Calgary, with radically increased scale and scope of stakeholder engagement, and especially with an increased role for Indigenous people.  The report also calls for a new, independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to provide energy data, information, and analysis. The Panel lays out a detailed vision of a new process, based on 5 core principles of: Living the Nation-to-Nation Relationship with Indigenous Peoples; Alignment of Regulatory Activities to National Policy Goals; Transparency of Decision-Making & Restoring Confidence ; Public Engagement Throughout the Lifecycle; and Regulatory Efficiency and Effectiveness.

For summaries and a range of immediate  response to the Panel’s recommendations, see : “Trudeau- appointed panel recommends replacement of the National Energy Board” in the National Observer , which provides summary, reaction, and background based on its ground-breaking, sustained investigations into the NEB process;  “Scrap NEB and replace it with 2 separate agencies, expert panel recommends” from CBC Calgary, with a sense of Alberta’s reaction; “National Energy Board needs major overhaul, Panel says”   in the Globe and Mail, which seems to greet the news with a yawn. 

For substantive response, see “NEB Modernization Panel report: The good, the workable and the ugly”   from West Coast Environmental Law, which states: “environmental lawyers say that the report completely misses the mark when it comes to how projects like oil pipelines should be assessed, and disagree with the Panel’s approach to determining whether individual energy projects are in the national interest.”

The “Statement by Environmental Defence’s Patrick DeRochie on the report from the Expert Panel on National Energy Board Modernization”   says:   “the Panel’s proposal for the Federal Cabinet to determine whether a project is in the national interest before it undergoes an environmental assessment is problematic. Responsibility for environmental assessments must be removed from the energy regulator and be completed before a Cabinet decision.” Environmental Defence also states that the NEB’s review of the Energy East pipeline must be put on hold until NEB modernization is complete.

From DeSmog Canada, “Trudeau promised to fix the National Energy Board. Here’s what his Panel Recommends” summarizes the contents.  In “Will a Repackaged National Energy Board Be Able to Meet Canada’s 21st Century Challenges? ”  Chris Tollefson of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation  frames the report in its larger context, and states: “What the Expert Panel fails to address, however, is the need fundamentally to reform the assessment that major energy projects must undergo before we, as a society, allow them to proceed. These assessments must be capable of supporting informed, transparent and defensible social choices about future development.  This is quite different from regulatory processes that are principally aimed at mitigating anticipated harms. …. where this Expert Panel has failed, and where the CEAA, 2012 Expert Report adds enduring value, is in confronting the legitimacy crisis that pervades decision making around fossil fuel infrastructure development. ”

From the Pembina Institute:  “NEB Expert Panel report two steps forward, one step back on climate” :  “The Expert Panel’s recommendations are only as good as the federal government’s next steps. It’s up to Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform Canada’s energy project review landscape by ensuring NEB modernization works in sync with other elements of the federal environmental law reform process. … now is the time to outline a credible pathway that builds upon recommendations from the EA and NEB expert panels to ensure this outcome is achieved.”

A  public comment period on the Expert Panel report is open until June 14th; click here to participate in French or English. You can read research reports and position papers already submitted to the Expert Panel here.  The submissions already received are not available – only Panel-generated summaries of the engagement sessions, which are here.

What next for the recommendations of this Expert Panel, and the other regulatory reviews in process (for example, the Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment , released on April 5 )?  According to the Natural Resources Canada press release: “Over the next few months, the Government of Canada will review the expert panel’s report in depth along with the reports from the other three environmental and regulatory reviews to inform the development of next steps.”

Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions –  from their transport fleets as well as the individual  journeys to and from work made by workers.  As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch.  Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the  Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands  : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”

The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide  (May 2017).  Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility.  “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.”  The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and  “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.

double decker busAccording  to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe.  By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”

Reports re environmental regulation arrive to positive response – next up in May: the Expert Panel on modernizing the National Energy Board

The Government of Canada launched four reviews of government environmental and regulatory processes in June 2016, and recently, the appointed Expert Panels have begun to deliver their reports.  The Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans  was released on February 24   – to a welcoming review by West Coast Environmental Law:  “We are pleased that the Committee has listened – to First Nations, to conservation and community groups, to scientists and concerned citizens across the country – and has recommended reinstating the Fisheries Act’s key prohibition on habitat alteration, disruption and disturbance .

Canada 2017 expert panel report building-common-ground-pdfThe Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment was released on April 5, and is open for public comment – only until May 5 at www.letstalkea.ca/.  The report, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada   incorporates a fundamental idea in its title:   what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment”.  The Panel recommends that:  an Impact Assessment Commission should be established as an independent, arm’s length government agency, “with a broad leadership mandate to conduct project, region-based and strategic-level assessments.  …. The Commission would also be mandated to generate its own independent science so that assessments are evidence-based and agency-led… and the Panel should commit to  ensuring that the projects are not developed without the early involvement of potentially affected Indigenous peoples and the public. ”

One  of the first responses to the Expert Panel comes from Chris Toellofson at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , who states: “the Panel deserves kudos for both for its ambitious commitment to process, and the innovative and balanced way it has charted the law reform road ahead.” The article continues with a thorough summary and analysis of the report, including: “Our biggest concern with the Report is that it has mainly focused on procedures, values and governance – and has therefore not engaged with some of the substantive legal tests that must be embedded in a federal assessment law to give it real traction. For example, the Report does not address the need for assessments to include “worst case scenario” modeling, and only briefly touches on the need for “alternatives” assessment. These legal requirements, as our experience in the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and Pacific NorthWest LNG reviews underscore, can be of critical importance, both scientifically and legally.”

WCEL env assessment summit coverWest Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) also responded positively though briefly, calling the report “not perfect but a step in the right direction”, and calling on the government to translate the recommendations into law quickly.  WCEL had convened a Federal Environmental Assessment Reform Summit meeting in Ottawa in May 2016, attended by approximately 30 of Canada’s leading environmental assessment experts, academics, lawyers and practitioners.  The summary of those discussions  was published in August 2016, and offers a context for any review of the recommendations of the government`s Expert Panel report.

Next up in May:  the Report of the Expert Panel regarding the Modernization of the National Energy Board , scheduled to be delivered to the Minister of Natural Resources on or around May 15, 2017.   Anticipating that release,  Ecojustice published a blog,  Modernizing the National Energy Board : Let’s get it right  on April 4, which states : “Today, the NEB is riddled with systemic failures. Some of the most glaring problems include, no flexible timelines for reviews, lack of inclusive public participation, and limitations on public hearings such as no cross-examination and no meaningful consideration of climate change impacts…The NEB, as we’ve come to know it, is dominated by industry insiders and conventional industry perspectives. As a result, it fails to objectively evaluate the need for, and the consequences of, new oil and gas projects. As we transition to a decarbonized energy system in which we are less likely to build new oil and gas infrastructure, the NEB’s role — chiefly concerned with regulating oil and gas and in particular interprovincial and international pipelines — should diminish. In other words, the NEB should get out of the business of environmental assessment….  The NEB’s function should be limited to technical matters traditionally within its regulatory expertise (related to pipeline safety, for instance). It could also turn its attention to technical plans for decommissioning and remediating energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, that are redundant in a decarbonizing economy.”

Is Europe on track to meet its Paris commitments? Is Canada?

Carbon Market Watch released a policy briefing report in March which found that only Sweden, Germany and France are making successful efforts towards meeting their Paris Agreement targets.   EU Climate Leader Board: Where Countries Stand On The Effort Sharing Regulation – Europe’s Largest Climate Tool  ranked the EU nations  for their actions towards meeting the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), currently under negotiation  to set binding 2021-2030 national emission reduction targets for sectors not covered in the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), including transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.    “Only three member states on track to meet Paris goals“, appeared  in the EurActiv newsletter, summarizing  the report and pointing  to many failings by member nations, including some “who exploited loopholes in United Nations forestry rules to pocket carbon credits worth €600 million”.   The National Observer noted the Climate Market Watch report in “Here`s How Europe ranks in the race against climate change” ,  and  asks “Where does that leave Canada?” .  As part of its own answer, the article  cites a report in The National Post newspaper on March 30: “Secret briefing says up to $300-per-tonne federal carbon tax by 2050 required to meet climate targets” . The article is based on a briefing note to the Minister of  Environment and Climate Change in November 2015, obtained through a Freedom of Information request.  The briefing note tells the Minister that in order to meet Canada’s 2030 emissions targets, a carbon price of $100 per tonne would need to be in place by 2020, with a price as high as $300 per tonne by 2050. The current national price for those provinces who agreed to the the Pan-Canadian Framework is $10 per tonne, rising to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Another  answer to the question, “where does that leave Canada?”  might  be the report released by Environment and Climate Change Canada: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Progress Towards Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target , which shows that Canada could be emitting at least 30% more GHG emissions than promised by 2030.  The report, however, is based on the policies in place as of November, 2016 –  before the current Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  The government is downplaying its own report, calling it only a set of “plausible outcomes”, rather than a forecast.