First Nations, Renewable Energy, and the benefits of community-owned energy projects

“These are exciting times in British Columbia for those interested in building sustainable, just and climate-friendly energy systems.” So begins the October 12 featured commentary, “BC First Nations are poised to lead the renewable energy transition”, published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a research project led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC and Saskatchewan Offices) and Parkland Institute. The commentary summarizes the results of a survey conducted for the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group  by academics at the University of Victoria , published in April 2017 . The survey reveals that 98% of First Nations respondents were either interested in, or already participating in a renewable energy projects – 78 operational projects, 48 in the planning or construction phase, and 250 further projects under consideration in B.C. alone.  The responses reveal a growing interest in solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass and micro-hydro projects under development—compared to already-operational projects, 61% of which are run-of-river hydroelectricity. Survey respondents identified three primary barriers to their involvement in renewable energy projects: limited opportunities to sell power to the grid via BC Hydro – (mostly because of the proposed Site C hydro project), difficulties obtaining financing, and a lack of community readiness.

Although the discussion focuses specifically on B.C.’s  First Nations, the article holds up the model of community-level energy projects beyond First Nations : “Instead of proceeding with Site C, BC has an opportunity to produce what new power will be needed through a model of energy system development that takes advantage of emerging cost effective technologies and public ownership at a community scale. Doing so would enable an energy system that can be scaled up incrementally as demand projections increase. It would also ensure the benefits energy projects are channelled to communities impacted by their development, and help respond to past injustices of energy development in our province….Choosing this path would result in a more distributed energy system, more resilient and empowered communities, a more diverse economy and a more just path towards climate change mitigation.”

CBC reported on another survey of First Nations – this one at a national level –  in “Indigenous communities embracing clean energy, creating thousands of jobs” ( October 11). The article focuses on First Nations renewable energy projects on a commercial scale, stating: “nearly one fifth of the country’s power is provided by facilities fully or partly owned and run by Indigenous communities”. The article links to case studies and numerous previous articles on the topic, but focuses on the job creation impacts of clean energy: “15,300 direct jobs for Indigenous workers who have earned $842 million in employment income in the last eight years.”

The CBC article summarizes a survey conducted by Lumos Energy , a consultancy which specializes in energy solutions, especially renewable energy, “for First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and communities”. Lumos Energy  leads the Indigenous Clean Energy Network ; its principal, Chris Henderson, has written the book Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples (2013).

Proposals for a green transition that is just and inclusive in Ontario

decent_work_in_the_green_economy-coverDecent Work in the Green Economy, released on October 11 , combines research on green transitions worldwide with the reality of  labour market trends in Ontario, and includes economic modelling of  Ontario’s cap and trade program, conducted by EnviroEconomics and Navius Research.  The resulting analysis identifies which sectors are expected to grow strongly under a green transition (e.g. utilities and waste management and remediation),  which will see lower growth (e.g. petroleum refining and petrochemical production), and which will see a transformation of skills requirements (e.g. mining, manufacturing, and  forestry). Section 3 of the report discusses the impacts on job quality (including wages, benefits, unionization, and job permanence), as well as skills requirements.  The general discussion in Section 3 is supplemented by two detailed Appendices about the employment impacts by economic sector,  and by disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups (which includes racialized workers, Indigenous people, workers with disabilities, newcomers, women, and rural Ontarians.) A final  Appendix describes the modelling behind the analysis, which projects employment impacts of low carbon technologies by 2030.

The paper calls for a comprehensive Just Transition Strategy for Ontario, and proposes  six core elements illustrated by case study “success stories”.   These case studies include the Solar City Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (which uses local supply chains and accounted for local employment impacts), and the UK Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy (which incorporated diversity goals and explicit targets in workforce development and retraining initiatives).  An important element of the recommended Just Transition Strategy includes a dedicated Green Transitions Fund, to transfer funding for targeted programs to communities facing disproportionate job loss; to universities or colleges to provide specialized academic programs; to social enterprise or service providers to carry out re-training programs; to directly impacted companies to invest in their employees; and to individuals in transition (much like EI payments).

The authors also call for better data collection to measure and monitor the link between green economy policies and employment outcomes, and better mechanisms for regular, ongoing dialogue.  This call for ongoing dialogue seems intended to provide a role for workers (and unions, though they are less often mentioned). The authors state: “No effort to ensure decent work in the green economy will be successful without meaningfully engaging workers who are directly impacted by the transition, to understand where and how they might need support. Just as important will be the ongoing engagement with employers and industry to understand the changing employment landscape, and how workers can best prepare for it.” And, on page 39,  “Public policy will be a key driver in ensuring that this transition is just and equitable. …. Everyone has a role to play in this transition. Governments, employers, workers, unions and non-profit organizations alike must remember that if we fail to ensure that the green transition is just and inclusive, we will have missed a vital opportunity to address today’s most pressing challenges. But if we design policies and programs that facilitate this transition with decent work in mind, they have the potential to benefit all Ontarians.”

Decent Work in the Green Economy was published by the  Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, in cooperation with the Smart Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa.  In addition to economic modelling, the analysis and policy discussion is based on an extensive literature review as well as expert interviews and input from government, industry, labour and social justice representatives. Part of the purpose of the report is to initiate discussion “between those actively supporting the transition to a green economy and those advocating for decent work” as defined by the ILO.  Further, the report states: “ Importantly, this conversation must address the need for equal opportunities among historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups who currently face barriers to accessing decent work.”

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.

 

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.

 

U.N. Working Group makes recommendations to protect human rights, labour rights in Canada

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a  Statement at the end of visit to Canada by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights on June 1. This is a preliminary document – the official mission report will be presented to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2018, and should be worth watching for.  The preliminary Statement provides a summary of the results of fact-finding meetings with government officials, business organizations related to Canada’s mining and oil and gas industries, and Indigenous people. Most importantly, it makes a number of recommendations regarding human rights, labour rights, environmental and social impact consultation, and the right to consult for Indigenous people.

Some Highlights:

“Part of the backdrop to our visit were visible protests by indigenous communities to several large-scale development projects, such as the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, the construction a large-scale hydroelectric dam (Site C Dam), and continued expansion of development projects of extractives industries. Several of these cases have also been repeatedly raised by UN human rights human rights mechanisms, such as the situation of the Lubicon Cree Nation, whose territories are affected by extensive oil sands extraction. In several indigenous territories, extensive mining and oil and gas extraction are accompanied by significant adverse environmental impacts affecting the right to health.”

Regarding the established “duty to consult” with Indigenous people regarding mining projects, the Working Group encourages the Canadian government to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 and for provincial and the federal government to promote more inclusive consultation regarding development projects.

The Working Group also urges the federal government to “follow up” on the April 2017 recommendations by the Expert Panel regarding Environmental Assessment in Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada  “to include indigenous peoples in decision-making at all stages through a collaborative process that is developed in partnership with impacted indigenous communities.”

Regarding the dam breach and tailings spill at the Mount Polley mine, the Working Group states: “We encourage the British Columbia government to complete expeditiously the impact study, continue to monitor closely the short-term and long-terms impacts of the tailings discharge, and communicate more widely their findings and proposed actions. Moreover, the provincial government should consult more broadly with indigenous communities who may have concerns about the breach and its impact on their lives. We also recommend the British Columbia government to consider establishing an independent body to assume compliance and monitoring of mining regulations, as recommended in the Auditor General’s report”.

Regarding the Westray Law, the Working Group states: “We heard concerns that the Westray law is not being properly implemented and enforced. We heard that there was a lack of coordination between key government parties, to secure sites of industrial accidents, for further investigation and inspection. We note that the Government of Alberta recently signed a new memorandum of understanding with ten police forces and Alberta Justice,  that defines protocols for notification, investigation and communication between departments when there is a serious workplace incident. Other provinces should follow Alberta’s lead”.

Regarding the need to protect the right to peaceful protest: “During our visit, we were told of the criminalization of peaceful protests and the use of security personnel and police to break up and arrest activists who were exercising their democratic right to protest against extractive projects both within and outside Canada. The government should work all relevant stakeholders to ensure more space for peaceful dissent and protest at home and abroad.”  And also: referring to Ontario and Quebec,  “we would encourage other provincial governments to develop similar Anti-SLAPP legislation. “

In conclusion: The Working Group revives a 2006 proposal for an Ombudsperson with a mandate to investigate allegations of business-related human rights abuse, and “we encourage the federal government to work together with provincial governments to develop a comprehensive national action plan on business and human rights. ”

For Oxfam Canada’s summary of the Working Group, see the Huffington Post article here , and here for the reaction of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability .

The Working Group Statement was also concerned with human rights abuses overseas by Canadian mining companies: see the analysis of the Working Group statement by Human Rights Watch here, or see “The ‘Canada Brand’: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America“,  an extensive report in the Osgoode Law  Research Paper Series (December 2016).