Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.

 

With an election coming, updates on Alberta energy policy

pembina energy alberta 2019With a provincial election looming large in Alberta, the Pembina Institute released a new publication, Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta, on March 8,  with  this introduction: “Like most Albertans, we want to see the responsible development of oil and natural gas. The province’s policy and regulatory environment must ensure that our resources are produced in a manner that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. … Alberta’s future as an energy provider is directly linked to an ability to demonstrate a demand for its products in a decarbonizing world. With the right policies, Alberta can be competitive, attract investment, spur innovation and remain a supplier of choice in the global energy market.”  The 17-page document, intended to reach across political partisan thinking, continues by outlining 23 policy recommendations “to unleash innovative technologies, deploy renewables, promote energy efficiency, continue greening our fossil fuel industries, and reduce climate pollution.”

The Alberta government itself is active in getting out its story about its energy policies.  Most recently, the Alberta Climate Leadership Progress Report  was released in March 2019, documenting the fiscal year of April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 –  the first year Alberta collected a carbon levy.  The report states that a total of $1.19 billion of carbon revenue was invested back into the economy that year, and a press release of March 7  catalogues the impacts, including:

  • Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) investments have supported more than 5,000 jobs in 2017-18. CLP commitments, such as the Green Line in Calgary, will support a further 20,000 jobs in the coming years.
  • Combining 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years, a total of $978 million in rebates has made life better and more affordable for lower- and middle-income Albertans.
  • The solar industry in Alberta has grown by more than 800 per cent…. About 3,100 solar installations have been completed across the province.
  • Alberta is forecast to cut emissions by more than 50 megatonnes in 2030.

Further press releases from the government :

“Alberta solar on the rise“: (Feb. 15) announced a new contract for  solar electricity with Canadian Solar,  to run from 2021 to 2041,  at an average price of 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, sufficient  to supply approximately 55 per cent of the government’s annual electricity needs while creating jobs in Southern Alberta.

Premier’s plan unlocks $2-billion energy investment” (Feb. 20) announced that the province will provide up to $80 million in royalty credits, funded through the Petrochemicals Diversification Program , to support phase one of the a Methanol production project by Nauticol Energy  . Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020, with a commercial operational date set for 2022; the government states that the project will create “as many as 15,500 construction jobs and an additional 1,000 permanent jobs.”

The Alberta Community Transit Fund announced a program which will provides $215 million over 4 years .  The press release lists 33  municipal projects awarded funding  on March 7, 2019.

NEB rules that Trans Mountain pipeline is in public interest, despite marine dangers and ignoring climate impacts

NEB reconsideration reportIn headline news on February 22,  Canada’s National Energy Board released the Report of its Reconsideration process (here in French), and for the second time, approved construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  The NEB states: “…Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale. The NEB also found that greenhouse gas emissions from Project-related marine vessels would likely be significant. While a credible worst-case spill from the Project or a Project-related marine vessel is not likely, if it were to occur the environmental effects would be significant. While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of Project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the Government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the Project and measures to minimize the effects.”

The decision was expected, and reaction was immediate:  From The Energy MixNEB Sidesteps ‘Significant’ Impacts, Recommends Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval”  , which summarizes reaction;  from the National Observer in  “For a second time, NEB recommends approval of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” (Feb. 22)  and  “NEB ruling sparks new vows to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline”.  An Opinion piece by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee  is titled, “NEB ‘Reconsideration Report’ a New Low for Failing Agency” and from the Council of Canadians, “The fight to #StopTMX Continues as feds approve their own pipeline” .  From British Columbia, where the government has appeared as an intervenor against the pipeline , the Sierra Club reaction is here ; the Dogwood Institute pledged opposition (including a rally against the decision in Vancouver)  and pledged to  make the Trans Mountain project a major part of the federal election scheduled for Fall 2019;  and West Coast Environmental Law press release   also pledged continued opposition.  Albertans see it differently, with Premier Rachel Notley releasing a statement which sees the decision as progress, but not enough to be a victory, and states: “We believe these recommendations and conditions are sound, achievable, and will improve marine safety for all shipping, not just for the one additional tanker a day that results from Trans-Mountain.” It is important to note that not all Albertans are pro-pipeline: Climate Justice Edmonton is protesting with a  “People on the Path” installation along the route, and Extinction Rebellion Edmonton  actively protests fossil fuel development.

Meaningful Indigenous consultation still needed :  The NEB Reconsideration process was triggered by an August 2018 decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, which ordered the NEB to re-examine especially the potential impacts of marine shipping on marine life, and the potential damages of an oil spill. The Reconsideration report has resulted in 16 new recommendations on those issues, along with the existing 156 conditions.   Although the final decision on the project rests with Cabinet, the issue of meaningful Indigenous consultation is still outstanding from the order of the Court of Appeal.  According to the CBC, “Ottawa has met already with three-quarters of Indigenous communities during Trans Mountain consultation reboot” as of Feb. 20, but also according to the CBC, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says “We still say no to the project. tiny house warriorsEven if one nation, one community says no, that project is not happening”  . And the Tiny House Warriors  continue to occupy buildings along the pipeline path, to assert their authority over the land.

Canada ignores GHG impacts while Australia rules against a coal mine on GHG grounds….  A motion was brought by the environmental group Stand.earth, demanding that the NEB reconsideration of Trans Mountain include consideration of its upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions, as had been done in the Energy East consultation. Stand.earth stated: “The board cannot possibly fulfill its mandate of determining whether the project is in the public interest without considering whether the project is reconcilable with Canada’s international obligations to substantially reduce GHG emissions.” An article in the National Observer,   “IPCC authors urge NEB to consider climate impacts of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” summarizes the situation and quotes Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, as well as Marc Jaccard and Kirsten Zickfeld, two professors from Simon Fraser University.  On February 19, the National Energy Board ruled on the Stand.earth motion, refusing to expand the scope of their reconsideration. Council of Canadians reacted with  “NEB climate denial another Trudeau broken promise”  .

It is doubly disappointing that Canada’s National Energy Board declined to include climate change impacts in its assessment, in the same month that the Land & Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia upheld the government’s previous denial of a permit for an open cut coal mine.   According to a report in The Guardian,     the decision explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time.… Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.”  The decision was also covered in: “Court rules out Hunter Valley coal mine on climate change grounds” (Feb. 8) in the Sydney Morning Herald, and from the  Law Blog of Columbia University: “Big Climate Win Down Under: Australian Court Blocks Coal Mine Citing Negative Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”.

Supreme Court rules in Redwater: bankruptcy is no escape from “polluter pays”

Supreme court of canada buildingOn January 31, the Supreme Court of Canada released a long-awaited, precedent-setting decision which holds fossil fuel companies responsible for the clean-up costs of their abandoned operations, and gives environmental clean-up costs precedence over other creditors’ claims.  The case arose from the 2015 bankruptcy  of Redwater Energy, a small, Calgary-based oil and gas company; the agent managing the  bankruptcy was proposing to  sell the company’s  profitable wells to pay off debts, and leave the clean-up costs of the other non-producing wells to the Orphan Well Association (OWA), a provincial, industry-funded agency.  The Supreme Court provides its own “Case in Brief” summary of the the case,  Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Ltd.  here , with links to all the official documents.  The full decision is here ; French-language versions of the Case in Brief , and the full decision are also provided. The response by the Orphan Well Association is here  .

For a brief reaction:  “Redwater decision reassuring, but we aren’t out of the woods” by the Pembina Institute (Jan. 31) or from the  National Observer special series Legacy of Liabilities ,  a summary of the decision  and the more detailed, “Alberta lauds court ruling but has no oil well cleanup plan”

Deeper background and analysis appears in  “Alberta’s Mega Oil and Gas Liability Crisis, Explained” in The Tyee , in which Andrew Nikoforuk asks, “Just how will an increasingly indebted industry, hobbled by low energy prices and rising costs, find the up to $260 billion needed to clean up its inactive pipelines, wells, plants and oilsands mines as it enters its sunset years?”  He concludes with words from Regan Boychuk, a founder of Reclaim Alberta, an advocacy group which began in 2016 to propose an Alberta Reclamation Trust , which would clean-up inactive wells and provide funding for job creation in the energy sector.   Boychuk’s own insider’s view appeared in the National Observer as “Putting the Supreme Court’s Redwater decision in context”  (Feb. 1) .  (Boychuk also provided a briefer Opinion piece as a guest blogger in David Climenhaga’s Albertapolitics.ca ).

Other detailed articles:  An Explainer from The Narwhal: “What the Redwater ruling means for Alberta’s thousands of inactive oil and gas wells”  or from a legal point of view, from Osler law firm, “Supreme Court of Canada decision in Redwater: Early Implications “. 

It is clear that the implications of this decision are huge and expensive, not only for Alberta, but for all extractive industries across Canada.  As the Pembina Institute points out:  “obligations have steadily grown, and now include over 80,000 inactive oil and gas wells, facilities, and pipelines as well as 1.4 trillion litres in fluid oilsands tailings. The Government of Alberta officially estimates it will cost CAD$57 billion to cleanup these sites, though there are ongoing concerns about the accuracy of this figure. Conversely, only $1.2 billion is currently held in securities to protect the public. ”  (A joint investigation by the National Observer, Global News, the Toronto Star, and StarMetro Calgary  in November 2018 estimated that the actual clean-up costs are approximately $260 billion in Alberta alone).

Review of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy; updates on renewables and methane regulations

env defence carbon-pricing-alberta-fbEnvironmental Defence released a report in December 2018, Carbon Pricing in Alberta: A review of its success and impacts  . According to the report, Alberta’s carbon levy, introduced in 2017 as part of the broader Climate Leadership Plan, has had no detrimental effect on the economy, and in fact, all key economic indicators (weekly consumer spending, consumer price index,and gross domestic product) improved in 2017. The report also documents how the carbon levy revenues have been invested: for example, over $1 billion used to fund consumer rebates and popular energy efficiency initiatives in 2017; support for Indigenous communities, including employment programs; a 500% growth in solar installations; funding for an expansion of light rail transit systems in Calgary and Edmonton; and prevention of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. The conclusion: the Climate Leadership Plan and its carbon levy is off to a good start, but improvement is needed on promised methane reduction regulations , and the regulations to enforce the legislated cap on oil sands emissions need to be released.

Methane Regulations:    The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a report in 2017 evaluating the province’s methane emissions regulations. On December 13, the government released new, final regulations governing methane. On December 19, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a summary of the new Regulations here  

Since the Environmental Defence study, on December 17, the government announced  agreement on five new wind projects funded by Carbon Leadership revenues, through the  Renewable Electricity Program. Three of the five projects are private-sector partnerships with First Nations, and include a minimum 25 per cent Indigenous equity component to stimulate jobs, skills training and other  economic benefits. The government claims that all five projects will generate 1000 jobs.

On  December 19 the government also  announced   new funding of  $50 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan for the existing  Sector-specific Industrial Energy Efficiency Program , to support technology improvements in the  trade-exposed industries of pulp and paper, chemical, fertilizer, minerals and metals facilities.

Balanced against this, a December 31 government press release summarized how its “Made in Alberta ” policies have supported the oil and gas industry: including doubling of support for petrochemical upgrading to $2.1 billion; creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) investment team to work directly with industry to expedite fossil fuel projects; political fights for new pipelines (claiming that “Premier Notley’s advocacy was instrumental in the federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline”), and the ubiquitous Keep Canada Working  advertisements promoting the keepcanada workingbenefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline . The press release also references the November announcement that the province will buy rail cars  to ship oil in the medium term,  and the December 11 press release announcing that the province is  exploring  private-sector interest in building a new oil refinery .