Parliamentary committee recommends a legislated right to a healthy environment in its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

On June 15, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled its report, Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999,   and the French version, Un Environnement Sain, des Canadiens et une Économie en Santé : Renforcer la Loi Canadienne sur la Protection de l’environnement (1999).

Called a “ground-breaking”  report by the David Suzuki Foundation, this review of  the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)  makes 87 recommendations to modernize the law.  The Ecojustice blog ,  “Much to celebrate in committee report on Canadian Environmental Protection Act”  summarizes some of the recommendations, including  the  introduction of national drinking water and air quality standards; “stronger enforcement provisions to ensure polluters are held to account; improved transparency, public reporting and consultation requirements; and faster timelines to ensure regulatory action is taken swiftly once a toxic threat is identified”.  Most important, however, is the recommendation that the Act recognize and protect the right of every person in Canada to a healthy environment – a right recognized in 110 other countries.

The reaction  from  East Coast Environmental Law also notes this right to a healthy environment, and emphasizes the environmental justice implications:  “ The Report… suggests that the importance of environmental rights to Indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations should be emphasized.  … The Report acknowledges that environmental burdens aren’t shared equitably by communities across Canada, …… it also makes a number of recommendations that address environmental injustice. For example, it recommends that the Act be expanded to include an obligation to protect the environment in a non-discriminatory way; that it enhance the procedural rights that protect access to information, access to justice, and public participation in environmental decision-making; that it address the inequitable burden of toxic exposure in Canada; and that it recognize the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The response from the David Suzuki Foundation also summarizes the recommendations, and makes clear that these are not yet law.  The  Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and eventually Cabinet, will consider the report, with legislation expected in the fall.   Ecojustice calls it “ a once-in-a generation opportunity to dramatically improve our most important environmental law.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada has compiled links to a history of CEPA . The Standing Committee website is here, with links to witnesses and the 68 briefs received.

 

NDP-Green alliance promises a new chapter for B.C. government and climate change policies

BC minority-government-20170529

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan  (photo by The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

According to a June 12 press release, the Legislature of British Columbia will be recalled on June 22, when a confidence motion will determine who will lead the government  after the cliff-hanger election of May 9.  Read “Greens to prop up NDP’s Horgan in minority BC government” in the National Observer (May 29) for an overview of the alliance reached between the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) as they prepare to form the new provincial  government.  What have they agreed on?  The text of the “Supply and Confidence” agreement, “founded on the principles of good faith and no surprises”,  is available at the B.C. NDP website . Major points of agreement on climate change issues are:  implacable opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline;  an increase in the province’s carbon tax by $5 a tonne each year from April 2018, rising to the nationally required $50 a tonne by 2021;  a six-month, independent review of the unpopular  Site C hydroelectric project (a concession by the Greens, who had wanted to axe it outright); revival of  the province’s Climate Leadership Team; and  an investigation into  the safety of fracking. Read also “What does a NDP- Green Alliance mean for Climate Change?” in the Climate Examiner (June 8), and for the larger picture beyond climate change-related issues, see “ BC NDP-Green agreement offers historic opportunity for game-changing new policies” by Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. , or  “NDP and Greens Promise Electoral Reform Referendum, Big Money Ban and Higher Carbon Tax”  in The Tyee (May 30).

The national implications of the coming changes to B.C. energy policy are raised by Kathryn Harris  in “A Historic moment for B.C. Politics and our Environment”  in the Globe and Mail (updated June 1), who states: “At the heart of the Trudeau government’s 2016 climate plan lies a political compromise: a commitment to pursue reductions in Canada’s own greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for expansion of fossil-fuel exports to other countries via new pipelines. The looming NDP-Green partnership in British Columbia reveals both the political fragility of that compromise and the contradiction of climate leadership funded by fossil-fuel development.”

In that controversial pipeline debate: new, required reading from the Parkland Institute: Will the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tidewater Access Boost Prices and Save Canada’s Oil Industry?.  Author David Hughes  challenges the contention by pipeline proponents (for example, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley)  that Alberta would benefit from a “tidewater premium” by reaching global markets, and concludes that “The new BC government would be wise to withdraw the Province’s approval for this project.”  And “Showdown looms for LNG project”,  an overview article  in The Globe and Mail indicates the changes likely to come on that file, although the NDP-Green agreement doesn’t explicitly address the LNG issue.

The Pembina Institute offers an alternative to the Clark fossil fuel economy,  in their Vision for Clean Growth Economy  for B.C., released in May.  It outlines  five key priorities and makes specific recommendations for their achievement: 1. Build a strong clean tech sector 2. Position B.C. to be competitive in the changing global economy 3. Make clean choices more affordable 4. Stand up for healthy and safe communities, and 5. Grow sustainable resource jobs.

The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement : how did Canada react? How did the labour movement react?

Front de Seine at night as seen from Pont Mirabeau

From Wikimedia Commons

As anyone alive must know by now, Donald Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017. NPR offers an annotated, fact-checked transcript of Trump’s announcement here.   The Editorial Board of the New York Times called it  “Our Disgraceful exit from the Paris Accord” ; Bill McKibben called it “Trump’s Stupid and Reckless Decision” in a New York Times OpEd, and  Vox headlined: “Quitting the Paris Climate Agreement is a moral disgrace”  . Leaders from business, government, and civil society around the world reacted with dismay: see a compilation of global reaction from the Daily Climate,  or from The Conversation, a compilation of analysis by academic experts: “Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world”    – including Simon Reich from Rutgers University who states:  “many may well claim that June 1, 2017 was the day that America’s global leadership ended.”

Almost immediately,  the states of California, Washington and New York stepped forward into the leadership gap with the June 1 launch of a U.S. Climate Alliance. By June 5, according to a New York press release , 10 more states had joined : Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.  The mayors of hundreds of U.S. cities have also committed to the Climate Alliance, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C.,  New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose.  The Alliance is committed to achieving the U.S. Paris Agreement goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels, and to meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.  Read “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord”  in the  New York Times  and “These Titans of Industry just broke with Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accords”  in the Washington Post (June 1) to see the extent of immediate push-back over the decision.

HOW DID CANADA REACT TO TRUMP’S DECISION?  The official government position was stated by Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change :  “While Canada is deeply disappointed that the United States has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we remain steadfast in our commitment to work with our global partners to address climate change and promote clean growth. It is the right thing to do for future generations and will create good jobs as we grow a clean economy.

Canada will continue to take leadership on climate change.

In September, we will co-host a Ministerial meeting with China and the European Union in Canada to move forward on the Paris Agreement and clean growth…. With or without the United States, the momentum around the Paris Agreement and climate action is unstoppable.”

And by June 5, Canada was on the world stage as the official host of World Environment Day .

Other Canadian reaction to Trump’s decision:  In the mainstream press: “World reacts to Trump’s climate move: ‘He’s declaring war on the planet itself’” in the Globe and Mail (June 2); from the CBC, “Trump quitting the Paris accord might not necessarily be the end of the world” .   In Maclean’s magazine, Catherine Abreu, Director of Climate Action Network Canada, wrote “What Trump’s retreat really means for Global Climate Action”     ( June 2), which provides a concise analysis of the impacts, affirming a theme put forth by others – Trump’s move is damaging but not an insurmountable problem, and others are stepping up to the task, and in fact, are galvanized to greater effort.

Other Canadian reaction:   From Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (June 7), “Trump’s Paris Withdrawal, Canada’s Opportunity”;   Matt Horne’s Opinion piece, from a Vancouver point of view,  in the Globe and Mail (June 4) “Environmental progress is possible despite Trump’s climate-change agenda”;  from the Energy Mix:  “World Leaders Respond, U.S. States and Cities Step Up as Trump Blunders Out of Paris Agreement” (June 2) ; “Canadian big city mayors defiant in face of Trump’s exit from Paris Accord” in the National Observer (June 1), which quotes Canadian mayors  assembled at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus in Ottawa on June 1;  and Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal and president of Metropolis, a 140-member world association of major cities : “in spite of this setback, cities will not just stand down; ….Mayors from around the world will be meeting in Montreal from June 19 to 23 at the Metropolis World Congress. … climate change will be at the heart of our deliberations, in collaboration with other networks of cities such as the C40 Climate Leadership Group and ICLEI.”

HOW DID UNIONS REACT TO THE TRUMP DECISION?  In “Unions respond to US announcement on Paris climate change agreement” (June 2), Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff states: “While President Trump’s decision on Paris represents a set-back to united action on climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the world is moving forward. Canadian government, civil society and industry recognize the need to adapt to a low-carbon economy.” The CLC  also references the response by the ITUC  (included below).

From the AFL-CIO, a brief 2- paragraph response:  “Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal a Failure of American Leadership” (June 1) ; from the Service Employees’ International Union, “Trump’s wrong decision on Paris won’t stop working Americans from pushing for progress on climate change” , and in his blog on June 2, Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers’ International President  states: “Workers Want a Green Economy, Not a Black Environment”  .   He refutes Trump’s reference to serving Pittsburg not Paris by detailing the pollution problems caused by the steel mill and zinc plants in Pittsburg in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and concludes:  The U.S. “has an obligation to lead the world in combatting climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility. ” The Labor Network for Sustainability Facebook post of June 1 concludes with:  “In taking this step, Trump has abandoned his opportunity to lead, and it is up to the U.S. labor movement to step up and provide support and leadership to communities, cities and states who are committed to solving the climate crisis; to ensure that workers are not left behind, and that we can all make a living on a living planet.”

Internationally,  the International Trade Union Confederation reacted with:  “The clear commitment by governments in the Paris Agreement to give workers, including those depending on the fossil fuel economy, a key role in developing a Just Transition strategy, will be undermined by the US announcement, which will also inhibit industrial and economic transformation in the US.”  The ITUC statement continues with a statement from the Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO , which interestingly does not name Donald Trump, but rather blames the decision on the advice of  EPA head Scott Pruitt.

From UNI Global Union: “Planet first, Trump last – UNI condemns Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal” , which states that “President Trump is on the wrong side of history,” … “This latest miscalculated act makes us even more determined than ever to work for people and planet.”

And on June 9,  in advance of the G7 Environment Summit in Bologna:  Our jobs, Our planet was released by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with the support of trade union confederations from G7 countries. The declaration states: “ Today, we reaffirm once again our commitment to support ambitious climate action and the Paris Climate Agreement. Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement  from ambitious climate pathways equals abandoning a cleaner future powered by good jobs”.

In the U.K., the Greener Jobs Alliance  reaction, Reasons to be Fearful ,  is written in the context of the British national elections, scheduled for June 8, and criticizes Prime Minister May for her weak criticism of the Trump decision.   This theme is taken up by DeSmog UK, “How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers (and Government) Reacted to Trump’s Paris Agreement Withdrawal”  (June 2) .

The Australian Council of Trade Unions, in response to the Australian government’s reaffirmation of its own commitment to the Paris Agreement on June 2, released their position: “Commitment to Paris crucial for ensuring a Just Transition for workers“.

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.

UPDATE:  The EcoFiscal Commission released a helpful blog post on May 24: Explaining Output-Based Allocations (OBAs),  with a promise of a further explainer about the pitfalls of OBAs, to be released soon.

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.”