Government campaign claims Trans Mountain pipeline is a “bridge to a greener tomorrow” – economists and citizens disagree

keepcanada working

#keepcanaddaworking social media campaign

Now that the government of Canada has bought the Trans Mountain pipeline project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan,  the governments of Alberta and Canada have launched a public relations campaign to “sell” the deal to Canadians.  The  Keep Canada Working television and  social media campaign  promotes the familiar Liberal government message that  “Developing the economy and protecting the environment are two things that can happen side by side – without choosing one over the other”, and argues that “The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion funds green investments, shifts the transportation of oil away from more carbon intensive methods like rail or truck, and provides a bridge to a greener tomorrow.”   The full “Climate Action” defense is here .

The “Jobs and the Economy” claims are here, including endorsements by politicians and includes a quote from Stephen Hunt, Director of the United Steelworkers District 3: “Members of the United Steelworkers are proud that the pipeline will be using Canadian-made USW-built pipe.”  The other positive job arguments are sourced from an April 2018 Globe and Mail article by the CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the corporate website of  Trans Mountain, which are in turn based on an unnamed  Conference Board of Canada report .

What do other economists say about the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline?   In February 2018, the Parkland Institute summarized and critiqued the economic arguments in a still-useful  blog “Let’s share the actual facts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline” , and Canadian economist Robyn Allan has written numerous articles critical of the Trans Mountain project for the National Observer, most recently “Premier Notley’s claimed $15 billion annual benefit from Trans Mountain exposed as false by her own budget”  (June 7 2018). Other more detailed publications since the May 2018 purchase by the government:  “Canada’s Folly: Government Purchase of Trans Mountain Pipeline Risks an Increase in National Budget Deficit by 36%, Ensures a 637% Gain by Kinder Morgan”, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, describes the fiscal and financial risks and calls for more public disclosure of those details before the Purchase Agreement is finalized in August.  Similarly,  The view from Taxpayer Mountain  (June 2018) from the West Coast Environmental Law Association links to  the actual Purchase Agreement and reviews Canada’s obligations and risks.  On June 26, Greenpeace USA has published  Tar Sands Tanker Superhighway Threatens Pacific Coast Waters  highlighting the dangers of a potential oil spill on the environment,  and on coastal economies.  At risk: the $60 billion coastal economy of Washington, Oregon and California, which  currently supports over 150,000 jobs in commercial fishing and over 525,000 jobs in coastal tourism, and in the British Columbia Lower Mainland, Greenpeace estimates there are  320,000 workers in industries that rely on a clean coastline.

On the issue of climate change impacts, a widely-cited discussion paper, Confronting Carbon lock-in: Canada’s oil sands (June 2018) from the Stockholm Environment Institute,  concludes that  “The continued expansion of Canada’s oil sands is likely to contribute to carbon lock-in and a long-term oversupply of oil, slowing the world’s transition to a low-carbon future.”  And still valuable reading: David Hughes’ Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (June 2016) from the Corporate Mapping Project  , and from Jeff Rubin,  Evaluating the Need for
Pipelines: A False Narrative for the Canadian Economy  (September 2017).

Tanker Bridge BlockadeDemonstrations continue:   Vancouver housing activist Jean Swanson’s  argues that the billions spent on Kinder Morgan would be better used for social housing, job creation, and renewable energy in  “Why I got arrested protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline” in The Tyee, July 11.  Twelve Greenpeace activists mounted an “aerial blockade”  for Trans Mountain oil tankers by hanging from a bridge above the water on July 3 and 4.   And on July 11, CBC reported  “Secwepemc First Nation’s ‘Tiny House Warriors’ occupy provincial park in Trans Mountain protest” .  The Tiny House Warrior movement began in 2017, near Kamloops, to block the pipeline by  re-establishing village sites and asserting authority over Secwepemc First Nations unceded Territories.

 

 

Facts, not politics: Parkland Institute report plans for Canada’s transition from fossil fuels

Parkland canadas energy outlook_coverOn May 1, the Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives co-released the latest report for the Corporate Mapping Project. Canada’s Energy Outlook: Current Realities and Implications for a Carbon-constrained Future is described in the press release as “ a definitive guide to Canada’s current energy realities and their implications for a sustainable future, taking a detailed look at Canadian energy consumption, renewable and non-renewable energy supply, the state of Canada’s resources and revenues, and what it all means for emissions-reduction planning.”

The title of the press release is instructive: “Pipeline feud underscores need for evidence-based energy strategy” – Canada’s Energy Outlook is an attempt to inject facts into the  current emotion-charged debate about the TransMountain pipeline and the role of oil and gas in Canada; in doing so, it counters many of the pro-pipeline claims, including the job creation claims.  For example, Chapter 2, “Non-renewable energy supply, resources and revenue” states:  “Oil and gas jobs are a relatively minor overall component of the Canadian economy: 2.2% of Canada’s workforce was employed in oil, gas and coal production, distribution and construction in 2015. Of these jobs, 52% were involved in construction, most of which were of a temporary nature. In Alberta, 6.3% of jobs were involved in fossil fuel production and distribution, and a further 6.6% in related construction.”

A commentary titled “Politics versus the future: Canada’s Orwellian energy standoff” discusses the pro-pipeline arguments being made by Alberta and the federal government in light of their incompatibility with our emissions reductions targets, but acknowledges the insufficiency of our renewable energy supply as yet.  It concludes: “ Some environmental groups assert that it will be relatively easy to swap out fossil fuels for renewable energy – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels and geothermal energy. That is unlikely given the scale of such a transition. Renewable energy can certainly be scaled up a lot, along with geothermal energy for heating and cooling, but we will likely need fossil fuels for decades to come as we make the transition.”

The report was written by David Hughes, an earth scientist,well-known energy expert, and author of several related  reports, including Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (2016).

Canada needs a mix of reactive and proactive Just Transition policies across the country

Hadrian Decarbonization coverMaking Decarbonization Work for Workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy”  was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on January 25th.  In light of  the federal government’s pledge to launch a Task Force on Just Transition in 2018, this report makes a unique contribution by using census data to identify the regions in each province with the greatest reliance on fossil fuel jobs. While fossil fuel dependence is overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta, with a few “hot spots” in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the report identifies communities from other provinces where fossil fuel jobs represent a significant part of the local economy – for example, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Sarnia, Ontario.  The report also makes the useful distinction between “reactive”  just transition policies, which are intended to minimize the harm to workers of decarbonization, and “pro-active” just transition policies, which are intended to maximize the benefits.   The author argues that, if the broad goal of a just transition is to ensure an equitable, productive outcome for all workers in the zero-carbon economy, a mix of reactive and proactive elements is necessary. Thus,  a national just transition strategy is required for fossil fuel-dependent communities, but workers in any industry facing job loss and retraining costs will also need support from enhanced social security programs.  In addition, governments must invest in workforce development programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs which will be created by the zero-carbon economy.

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers is  a co-publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program . The author is  CCPA researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

A just clean energy transition for New York state – proposals include protection of pension benefits for displaced workers

On November 13,  the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts published a new study by authors Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, all well-established experts on the job creation benefits of renewable energy.  Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities    examines the benefits of large-scale investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency for New York State, and proposes a Just Transition policy framework to support such clean energy investments. Their analysis is based on an estimate of a 40 percent decline  in production activity and employment in fossil fuel industries in New York State as of 2030. They examine the labour market and present detailed statistics about the compensation and benefits, unionization, educational qualifications, gender and race of the small percentage (0.15 percent) of the total state workforce who worked in fossil fuel dependent industries in 2014.

In Chapter 8, they  propose a Just Transition program guaranteeing pensions and reemployment, as well as providing income, training and relocation support for workers. They also propose support for fossil-fuel dependent communities, primarily through channeling new clean energy investments to the affected communities.  The report cites the model of the Worker and Community Transition program that operated through the U.S. Department of Energy from 1994 – 2004.

Because of the level of detail in the report, (including information about the unfunded pension liabilities of the relevant companies), the authors are able to make very specific policy recommendations and also provide cost estimates. For example, they call on the State government to mandate full funding of pensions via state law, or through coordination with the federal Pen­sion Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), to the extent that companies could be prohibited from paying dividends or financing share buybacks,  or the state (in cooperation with PBGC) could place liens on company assets when pension funds are underfunded.

The report estimates a total cost of approximately $18 million per year to fund 100 percent compensation insurance for five years,  retraining for 2 years, and relocation support for workers. This is based on an average of  $270,000 – $300,000 per worker per year, for  the estimated  67 displaced workers likely to be eligible.

Interesting context for this report appears in an interview with Robert Pollin in the  Albany Times Union, “N.Y. must try harder to become a clean energy beacon.

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.