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.

 

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.

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.”

Northern Gateway Headed to Court as NEB Approval Provokes Criticism of Review Process

On December 19th, the National Energy Board granted conditional approval to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, citing 209 conditions.The federal NDP and Green parties criticized the decision, while some opponents of the pipeline allege the joint review panel itself has been “undemocratic” and has undermined the integrity of the environmental review process in general, echoing an August 2013 lawsuit in which NGO ForestEthics claimed NEB public participation rules were unconstitutional. A series of at least 10 lawsuits has been launched in response to the NEB approval, notably one by B.C. Nature and one by a coalition of NGOs including EcoJustice, ForestEthics, Living Oceans Society, and Rainforest Conservation Foundation. The environmental groups allege the Joint Review Panel (JRP) final report contains serious legal and scientific gaps, such as uncertainty regarding geohazards along the pipeline route and the behaviour of spilled bitumen in marine environments. They claim the JRP also failed to address legal obligations to the humpback whale and caribou populations whose habitats lie in the pipeline path, both of which are protected under the Species at Risk Act.

Three First Nations, Gitxaala, Git’gat, and Haisla, have launched lawsuits of their own calling for federal review of the NEB decision. They claim their unique constitutional rights regarding development on their lands were also neglected during the review process.

Read the press release from EcoJustice on their lawsuit at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/environmental-groups-launch-lawsuit-over-flawed-northern-gateway-report. CBC coverage of lawsuits from environmental groups is available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/northern-gateway-pipeline-report-draws-lawsuit-1.2501051; coverage of First Nations lawsuits is available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/gitga-at-northern-gateway-lawsuit-joins-9-other-challenges-1.2507155.

According to West Coast Environmental Law, Enbridge may be experiencing difficulty attracting investment to the project in light of persistent opposition. See: NEB’s Thumbs Up Ignores Wall of Opposition that will Stop Enbridge (Jan. 16) is at: http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/neb%E2%80%99s-thumbs-ignores-wall-opposition-will-stop-enbridge.

Positions of B.C. Political Parties on Climate Change Issues and Green Jobs

British Columbia holds its provincial election on May 14th.  The Pembina Institute has released a comparison of the positions of the political parties on four election issues related to climate change: liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil pipelines, the carbon tax and green jobs. They find that the Green Party is the only one who would take the province forward on all four issues, and goes the furthest in proposals for green job creation – with enhanced venture capital funding programs for the clean tech sector, as well as encouragement of energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Only the Conservatives have no proposals re green job creation.   The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all in support of significant LNG expansion, yet the Pembina authors state that “any necessary next steps in lowering emissions will be overwhelmed by the emissions from extracting, processing and liquefying natural gas if LNG development is allowed to significantly expand in B.C.”

LINKS

Climate change and the 2013 British Columbia election by Matt Horne, Josha MacNab & Kevin Sauvé is available at http://www.pembina.org/media-release/2449 .

“B.C.’s political climate is shifting: Why talk of ‘jobs vs. environment’ no longer holds water” by Eric Doherty (May 10) at Rabble.ca at http://rabble.ca/news/2013/05/bcs-political-climate-shifting-why-talk-jobs-vs-environment-no-longer-holds-water

Party Platforms:  Green Party: Jobs in a New Economy is at http://www.greenparty.bc.ca/jobs_in_new_economy ; NDP platform is at http://www.bcndp.ca/plan  ; Liberals’ at http://www.bcliberals.com/news/in-the-news/ourPlan ; Conservatives’ at http://www.bcconservative.ca/ .

The Tyee Election Hook (dedicated to election coverage)  is at http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/

For results:  go to CBC B.C. Election 2013 website at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/bcvotes2013/