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.

 

A map of green building jobs in B.C.; Edmonton benchmarks its energy efficiency

On August 23, the Pembina Institute released an update  to the British Columbia Green Buildings Map, first launched in 2015 .  The updated interactive map of 2017 shows where approximately 20,000 energy-efficient homes and buildings are located throughout B.C..  Pembina’s research also states that there are 31,700 people employed in the green building sector – an impressive increase from the 23,200 in 2015, especially given the decline in energy-efficient retrofitting which occurred when the previous provincial government ended its LiveSmart rebate program in 2014.

Related documents recently released:  A discussion paper from  the Pembina Institute and The Atmospheric Fund, reminding  us that net-zero standards for  new construction will lead to a significant but insufficient reduction in GHG emissions –   retrofitting of existing buildings is also required. The Pan-Canadian Framework committed to the development of a national model code for existing buildings by 2022.   Energy Regulations for Existing Buildings  identifies the opportunities and challenges for the federal government to consider as it works with the provinces to create and implement supporting measures such as financing, incentives, and energy labeling, as well as ambitious and clear building codes and regulations.

From the Conference Board of Canada in August:  Doing More with Less: Energy Efficiency Potential in Canada.  The report surveys the existing studies about energy efficiency in Canada at the national and provincial level – highlighting the barriers that exist as well as the potential for savings in energy consumption and GHG emissions.  It concludes that energy efficiency measures such as incentive programs, retrofits, audits, land-use measures, building standards and renewable subsidies can substantially reduce Canada’s energy consumption, with the most promise for  energy savings to be found in lighting, space heating and household electronics for residences, and  lighting, computer and HVAC equipment in the commercial sector.

And on the ground,  the City of Edmonton, Alberta launched a three-year Large Building Energy Reporting & Disclosure pilot program in June.  Participants will benchmark the energy performance of the city’s largest buildings, using Natural Resources Canada’s Energy STAR Portfolio Management tool.  The full Program details are here ; a summary is here . At the end of the 3-year pilot, the city will evaluate whether to maintain the program as a voluntary one, or require mandatory reporting.

 

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

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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.

How the B.C. Insulators Union fights climate change and promotes green awareness in the construction industry

The Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project has released two  papers relating to the built environment, and more specifically, the accomplishments of one labour union in British Columbia to  promote major climate change improvements in the construction industry.  Evaluating the Impact of the BC Insulators’ Union Campaign to Promote Improved Mechanical Insulation Standards in BC’s Construction Industry   (April 2016) described the campaign by  BC Insulators union Local 118 to encourage municipalities in B.C. to require higher insulation standards in their building requirements and procurement contract tenders.  To do this, the union “funded independent, technical research papers, commissioned best practice manuals with detailed guidelines on installing MI and initiated an extensive and carefully organized public education campaign to pressure industry and government to raise standards. It approached municipalities, building contractors, government officials, property developers, industry professionals and trade organizations to alert them to the importance of reducing the energy footprint of buildings. It pressured governments to raise MI standards in procurement of new and refurbished buildings and implement tougher requirements in their building codes. And it introduced climate change literacy into the curriculum of the apprenticeship system it oversees.”

insulalater2-365x365The climate literacy curriculum is the subject of a new report released in April 2017: Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction   describes  the ‘Green Awareness’ course the union provides as part of the apprenticeship training for  all mechanical insulation trades workers in British Columbia. The two-module course was introduced in 2011 and is taught over the course of the first two years of the four-year program.  After conducting a review of the ‘Green Awareness’ course content, the research team performed qualitative interviews with a cohort of 2nd and 4th year apprentices to determine how effective the training had been.   These findings indicate the need for further refinements in the content and delivery of the ‘Green Awareness’ course material. The authors conclude that incorporating climate change-related course content into the training process is an important step in fostering climate literacy within the industry and should be encouraged in other trades. They caution, however, that its degree of impact will be limited unless more sweeping changes are made to the organization and culture of the construction industry itself.

Both papers were authored by John Calvert and Corinne Tallon.  The evaluation of the climate literacy program was presented at the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Sheffield, United Kingdom, April 4 – 6, 2017.

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B.C. Election 2017: focusing on energy and the environment amid all those scandals

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgThe sitting Liberal government of British Columbia, led by Premier Christy Clark, is facing an election on May 9, amid allegations of corruption  – most recently, in  “How Teck Resources benefits from being the largest BC Liberal donor”  from West Coast Environmental Law (April 6).  The Energy Mix reports  that  the Supreme Court of B.C. will begin a review of the government’s ties to Kinder Morgan,  the company behind the Trans Mountain pipeline, on May 3rd .  There are also wider, older  allegations of “cash for access” and donation scandals – for examples, see  the Dogwood Institute reports .

The election is full of contentious issues –  follow “ B.C. in the Balance”, a special series of election reports by The Tyee , or  DeSmog Canada ,  or the CBC Vancouver website for ongoing coverage.  Context is provided by a  CCPA-BC Policy Note (April 4), which summarizes the results of a recent survey of B.C. residents’ concerns: affordable housing and the cost of living (26%), the environment (24%), and  jobs and the economy (15%).

For a climate change-related viewpoint, West Coast Environmental Law has published a comparison of the climate change-related elements of the platforms of the three parties, and a scorecard .

The Liberal party platform, released on April 10, states: “ To keep B.C.’s economy strong and growing, today’s BC Liberals will get Site C built – employing thousands, and guaranteeing a 100-year supply of clean, affordable, reliable power. And the platform outlines key actions to strengthen forestry, secure new mining investments, and grow B.C.’s energy sector, including LNG.”    The Pembina Institute reaction speaks for most environmentalists in opposing the government’s continuing focus on LNG development:  “The platform released today continues … doubling down on an LNG industry that would be responsible for 20 million tonnes of B.C.’s carbon pollution in 2050. B.C.’s legislated 2050 target for carbon pollution is 13 million tonnes. Clearly, LNG is not a climate solution.”

Irene Lanzinger, President of the B.C. Federation of Labour  and member of Green Jobs BC  is critical of the Liberal record on green jobs, in  an April 13 article in The Tyee  , and points to the Green Jobs BC priorities for green job growth: clean energy, transit, building retrofits and forestry.

The Green Party platform   includes a statement on Building the New Economy,  and the platform on climate leadership . The Green Platform is most notable for its pledge to increase B.C.’s carbon tax by $10 per tonne per year, reaching $50 per tonne by 2021. (as recommended by the shelved 2016 Climate Leadership Plan ).  David Suzuki praises the Green platform but states:  “Missing from this announcement are details of a funding framework for public transit infrastructure investment and a firm commitment to expand the use of low-impact renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power to achieve the province’s energy needs.”  According to West Coast Environmental Law, neither the Green nor NDP platform makes any statement about fossil fuel subsidies.

The NDP platform is here , and was welcomed by the Pembina Institute on its release:      “We are pleased to see the commitment to implementing the recommendations of the premier’s Climate Leadership Team, which plot a course to significantly reduce B.C.’s carbon pollution — in particular, the pledge to adopt the proposed 2030 target and sector-by-sector targets for emissions.”