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”.

B.C. Budget delivers $902 million to fund Clean B.C. initiatives

BC government news open micThe government of British Columbia tabled its Budget on February 19- officially detailed in  Making Life Better- A Plan for B.C. 2019/20 — 2021/22 .  As summarized by the National Observer article, “B.C. provincial budget funds nearly $1 billion for climate action” , it included $902 million  over the next three years to support the 2018 Clean B.C. Plan . Here are some of the big-ticket items:  $107 million for transportation initiatives – mostly providing incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases (up to $6000 per vehicle) and funding for new charging stations;  $58 million for making homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient – as a result, homeowners can get up to $14,000 for energy efficiency improvements such as  switching to high-efficiency heating systems or upgrading their doors or  windows. $168 million is dedicated to funding  an incentive program to encourage large industrial polluters to reduce their emissions; $15 million is dedicated to help remote communities transition to clean energy solutions, and  $299 million is unallocated as yet. In addition to the Clean B.C. funds, the budget includes $111 million over three years to fight and prevent wildfires, another $13 million for forest restoration, and $3 million for the BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, to help First Nations communities build clean energy projects.

Reaction has generally been positive – for example, from Clean Energy Canada . The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office, in “Nine things to know about the B.C. Budget” commends the  $223 million which is  budgeted to increase the climate action tax credit for low- and middle-income earners, but says, “action needs to be ramped up further—and fast”.  CCPA’s  Special  Pre-budget Feature  included an essay by Marc Lee “Expand climate initiatives to reflect the urgency of the crisis”  (Feb. 1). Lee had called for the  reinstatement of  annual increases to the carbon tax, beginning in 2019 with an increase of $10 per tonne – but no such policy was announced. (Lee had also called for more realistic budget allocations for wildfire response, which was addressed).

Finally, the Pembina Institute response is generally positive, though it calls for an independent panel to publicly monitor accountability and report on progress annually, echoing the Op-Ed “wish list” it had released before the budget was handed down.  . That had  stated: “B.C.’s Climate Change Accountability Act needs more teeth. What’s required is a transparent process whereby the government forecasts carbon pollution (including reduction goals for each sector), tracks and publicly reports on our progress, submits this data for independent verification, and adjusts policies as necessary.”   Other key items which Pembina had called for include  stronger regulations than those announced in January to limit methane pollution, and a strategy to use clean electricity to power the controversial LNG production which threatens to make the province’s GHG emissions targets unreachable.

Updated: Agreement reached between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en First Nation protesters after arrests in B.C.

witsewen protestDespite the high praise for British Columbia’s new Clean B.C. strategy released  on December 5,  B.C. has a problem – supporting the $40 billion LNG Canada facility makes it almost impossible for the province to reach its GHG reduction targets. (Marc Lee his most recent critique in “BC’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood”.)  And on January 7, the headlines began screaming about another problem related to LNG Canada, as the RCMP began to enforce an injunction granted by B.C.’s Supreme Court, arresting fourteen members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en  built a fortified barrier on a remote forest service road near Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, to prevent construction workers from TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corp.) and their pipeline subsidiary Coastal GasLink. The company maintains that they have signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, but those agreements have been made with elected chiefs and councils of the five Wet’suwet’en bands. The hereditary chiefs maintain that the agreements do not apply to traditional lands.  The Vancouver Sun provides good local coverage atFourteen people arrested after RCMP break down anti-pipeline checkpoint“;   The Tyee explains the background and issues in “Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade” ; The Energy Mix  writes “Negotiations Seek ‘Peaceful Solution’ At Unist’ot’en After RCMP Arrest 14 Blocking Coastal Gaslink Pipeline” (Jan. 9) .

First Nations viewpoint appears in a series of posts at APTN News, including: “An act of war’: Gidimt’en clan prepares for police raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory” (Jan. 5);  “Researchers say RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en would place corporate interests over Indigenous rights” (Jan. 6) ; and “RCMP set up ‘exclusion zones’ for public and media as raid on B.C. camps start (Jan. 7) . According to those reports, “The Gidmit’en Clan, whose members are at the second check point, have called any RCMP raid an “act of war.”

haisla-nation logoNot all First Nations oppose the LNG Canada project.  In a summary of a Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa on December 13 , First Nations speakers  included Larry Villeneueve, Aboriginal Liaison with Local 92 of LiUNA, (involved in four training sites in western Canada for a skilled Indigenous workforce); Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, now Co-Chair of Indigenous Affairs Committee at LiUNA; and Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.  In An open letter to opponents and critics of LNG development   on the Haisla Nation website, Crystal Smith writes: “We urge you to think strongly about how your opposition to LNG developments is causing harm to our people and our wellbeing. Opposition does nothing towards empowering our Nation, but rather dismisses our Rights and Title and works towards separating our people from real benefits.” As this issue has heated up, on January 8 she posted “Investing in ourselves is not selling out” .

Rallies in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en resistance have been coordinated through a Facebook campaign, International Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en , and reports indicate turnout across Canada, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, New Brunswick, Whitehorse, and Calgary.  The APTNews  (Jan. 9) includes photos and video;  Regional CBC outlets have also covered the story:  “Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps  (Jan. 8);  “Protesters, counter protesters gather in downtown Calgary after B.C. pipeline arrests” ; “Protests in Regina, Saskatoon show solidarity with B.C. First Nation fighting pipelines”  (Jan. 8).  The National Observer reports that the Prime Minister was forced by protesters to change the time and venue of his address to First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 8th. Prime Minister Trudeau is visiting Kamloops on January 9 but has declined to visit the protest camp.

UPDATES: On January 9, the National Observer reported on a press conference with B.C. Premier Horgan, at which he asserted that “his government believed it had met its obligations to consult with Indigenous nations in approving TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink project by receiving the “free, prior, and informed” consent that is referenced in United Nations declarations on indigenous rights.”  He sees sees “no quick fix” to the issue and did not set out any path forward.

An “uneasy peace” was reached between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en protesters on January 9, allowing workers access to the  Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site in order to avoid a second RCMP raid on the protest camp. According to  “‘Peaceful Resolution’ to Unist’ot’en Blockade Allows Access, Not Construction, Chiefs Say” in The Energy Mix (Jan. 11)  and a related CBC report, “it’s a temporary solution to de-escalate things while everyone figures out their next moves.”

What comes next? Construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is certainly not settled, not only because of the issue of  Wet’suwet’en permission to build on heriditary lands  (that issue explained here ).  There is also dispute over whether or not the pipeline falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction – an issue to be addressed by the National Energy Board in April. Read Andrew Nikoforuk in “Is Coastal GasLink an Illegal Pipeline?” in The Tyee (Jan. 11) or  “Coastal GasLink pipeline permitted through illegal process, lawsuit contends” in The Narwhal .

An analysis in The Energy Mix, “Pipeline Investment ‘Goes Palliative’ in Wake of Unist’ot’en Blockade”  (Jan. 13) compiles responses to the blockade from several media outlets, and sketches out two themes. The first, Canada has provided yet another example of how unattractive and uncertain it is to energy investors; the second: First Nations concerns are represented by  both hereditary and elected leaders. “As long as they [the government]  are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”

 

New B.C. Plan weds a clean economy with economic growth and worker training

cleanbc logoBritish Columbia’s long-promised climate plan, CleanB.C.  was released on December 5. The press release summary is here , details are in a 16-page Highlights Report . Top-line summary: the CleanBC plan is at pains to emphasize that it is a plan for economic growth as well as a cleaner environment.  B.C.’s existing carbon tax will increase $5.00 per year from 2018 to 2021, with rebates for low and middle income British Columbians and support for clean investments in industry.  CleanB.C. repeats some already announced initiatives, such as the the zero-emissions vehicle sales mandate and ZEV consumer incentives,  and the requirement for new buildings to be  “net-zero energy ready” by 2032.  Publicly-funded housing will benefit from $400 million to support retrofits and upgrades.  Cleaner operations by industry will target a 45% reduction of methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations , and incentives “will provide clean electricity to planned natural gas production in the Peace region”.  There is also support through “a regulatory framework for safe and effective underground CO₂ storage and direct air capture “.

CleanB.C. recognizes the needs of workers.  From the Highlights: “As new jobs and professions emerge, post-secondary education and training need to keep pace. The Province is working with employers, Indigenous communities, labour groups and postsecondary institutions to analyze the labour market and identify: -where the strongest job growth is likely to be, – what skills are needed to meet the demand, – what specific training we need to develop and deliver in our communities, and – what support students and apprentices need to excel in these programs. As a first step, we are investing in two key sectors where we already know demand is strong and growing – cleaner buildings and cleaner transportation:  – Developing programs like Energy Step Code training and certification and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation – Expanding job training for electric and zero-emission vehicles.” The government also states it is developing a  CleanBC Labour Readiness Plan, which is part of the reason that  Unifor responded with “Unifor supports introduction of Clean B.C. Plan”.  Laird Cronk, president of the  BC Federation of Labour calls the new strategy an “historic opportunity” to develop a sustainable economy, and states: “We’re committed to working together on just and fair transition strategies to protect existing workers and to ensure that new employment opportunities created by the CleanBC plan are good, family- and community-supporting jobs.”

The general acclaim for Clean B.C. is compiled in a Backgrounder at the B.C. government website, with statements from politicians, environmentalists, business leaders, First Nations, labour unions, and academics- among them,  Marc Jaccard from Simon Fraser University, who states:  “This plan returns B.C. to global climate leadership.” From other sources:  Clean Energy Canada:  “CleanBC marks a turning point for B.C.’s environment and economy”  (Dec. 5);  The Broadbent Blog , which singles out the exemplary commitment to equity and reconciliation with First Nations people; the Pembina Institute, “B.C. climate plan sets a course to Canada’s clean future”   and  “Five bright spots in B.C.’s new climate plan”, which highlights the importance of the accountability mechanism.   The David Suzuki Foundation   calls it a “Big Step Forward”, but points out that there is more to be done – a Phase 2 is needed.

The Phase 2 of further initiatives (and implementation legislation ) are promised. The  Government clearly admits that the initiatives announced on December 5 will only  achieve 18.9 Mt GHG reduction, leaving a 25% gap with what is required by the  legislated target for 2030 ( 25.4 Mt GHG from a 2007 baseline).

The response from West Coast Environmental Law  applauds and endorses CleanB.C. and its accountability measures, but raises the elephant in the room question:  “We know that the Province needs to go further: the map set out in CleanBC is not complete, nor does it go far enough. Some recent decisions, for example on LNG, are difficult to square with this climate plan”.  This big LNG question also appears in “Critics question B.C.’s LNG pursuit in wake of climate plan announcement” (updated on December 6), stating that “ the already-approved LNG export facilities — LNG Canada and Woodfibre in Squamish — would take up almost all of B.C.’s allowable carbon footprint under the current targets.”  The government’s current LNG Framework   was released in March 2018 , allowing the approval of a controversial  $40-billion LNG project centred in Kitimat  in October 2018.  At that time, the Green Party leader linked his Party’s support for the clean growth strategy and promised the Greens “would have  more to say” about LNG after the Clean Growth strategy was finalized.

The Fossil fuel industry in Alberta: public opinion, and mapping ownership

Parkland provincesapart_coverIn Provinces Apart? Comparing Citizen Views in Alberta and British Columbia,  released by the Parkland Institute on October 25, the authors re-visit the data from a survey conducted in February – March 2017, and conclude that what differences exist between citizens of Alberta and British Columbia are attributable more to their political self-identification than to their province, age, or educational status. While the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was certainly an active issue at the time, the survey pre-dated the bitter political battle and subsequent media attention which ensued from the federal government’s purchase of the project, and the Court decision which suspended construction. After a brief review the political events of the most recent Trans Mountain controversy, the authors conclude “the governing and opposition parties in both provinces have exacerbated this partisan divide.”

In those calmer days when the survey was conducted, citizens’ views on political influence, the fossil fuel industry, climate change, and the role of protests in a democracy were not as divergent as stereotypes tell us.   Findings of particular interest: 53% of respondents in Alberta and  69% in B.C. agreed that “we need to move away from using fossil fuels;” 76% in Alberta and 68% in B.C. thought the petroleum industry has too much influence over governments, (fewer than one-third said the same about either environmentalists, labour unions or Indigenous groups).

Parkland 2018 who_owns_fossil fuel coverThe Parkland Institute also published Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control   in October, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. and Saskatchewan, and the University of Victoria.  The analysis covers the period from 2010 to 2015, and demonstrates that the production, ownership and control of the fossil fuel industry is highly concentrated: “The top 25 owners together account for more than 40 per cent of overall revenues during this period.”  At 16%, foreign corporations are the largest type of majority owners (led by ExxonMobil) ; asset managers and investment funds are the 2nd largest; banks and life insurers are the third-largest type of owner (approximately 12% of revenues), with the big five Canadian banks (RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC) among the top investors. The federal Canadian government, combined with provincial governments, own 2%.  The report provides a wealth of information, including names and ranks of specific companies in the network of ownership and control, points out the importance of divestment campaigns, and “identifies the need to shift from fossil-fuel oligarchy to energy democracy, in which control of economic decisions shifts to people and communities, such as through public ownership of renewables and much greater democratic participation in energy policy.”

For more insight into Alberta and its energy economy, the Parkland Institute is hosting a conference, Alberta 2019: Forces of Change   from November 16 – 18. Presentations include: Opening Keynote, “In the Eye of the Storm”, by Lynne Fernandez (Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Manitoba); “The Alberta Economy in Context” by Angella MacEwen; “Just Transitions in the Belly of the Beast” by Emily Eaton ( University of Regina); and “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands” by Ian Hussey (Research Manager at Parkland Institute).

bluegreen alberta 2018Also from Alberta:  the 2018 event from BlueGreen Canada,  Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 was held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This is the third annual event –  summaries from 2017  and 2016  are here.