Review of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy; updates on renewables and methane regulations

env defence carbon-pricing-alberta-fbEnvironmental Defence released a report in December 2018, Carbon Pricing in Alberta: A review of its success and impacts  . According to the report, Alberta’s carbon levy, introduced in 2017 as part of the broader Climate Leadership Plan, has had no detrimental effect on the economy, and in fact, all key economic indicators (weekly consumer spending, consumer price index,and gross domestic product) improved in 2017. The report also documents how the carbon levy revenues have been invested: for example, over $1 billion used to fund consumer rebates and popular energy efficiency initiatives in 2017; support for Indigenous communities, including employment programs; a 500% growth in solar installations; funding for an expansion of light rail transit systems in Calgary and Edmonton; and prevention of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. The conclusion: the Climate Leadership Plan and its carbon levy is off to a good start, but improvement is needed on promised methane reduction regulations , and the regulations to enforce the legislated cap on oil sands emissions need to be released.

Methane Regulations:    The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a report in 2017 evaluating the province’s methane emissions regulations. On December 13, the government released new, final regulations governing methane. On December 19, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a summary of the new Regulations here  

Since the Environmental Defence study, on December 17, the government announced  agreement on five new wind projects funded by Carbon Leadership revenues, through the  Renewable Electricity Program. Three of the five projects are private-sector partnerships with First Nations, and include a minimum 25 per cent Indigenous equity component to stimulate jobs, skills training and other  economic benefits. The government claims that all five projects will generate 1000 jobs.

On  December 19 the government also  announced   new funding of  $50 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan for the existing  Sector-specific Industrial Energy Efficiency Program , to support technology improvements in the  trade-exposed industries of pulp and paper, chemical, fertilizer, minerals and metals facilities.

Balanced against this, a December 31 government press release summarized how its “Made in Alberta ” policies have supported the oil and gas industry: including doubling of support for petrochemical upgrading to $2.1 billion; creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) investment team to work directly with industry to expedite fossil fuel projects; political fights for new pipelines (claiming that “Premier Notley’s advocacy was instrumental in the federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline”), and the ubiquitous Keep Canada Working  advertisements promoting the keepcanada workingbenefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline . The press release also references the November announcement that the province will buy rail cars  to ship oil in the medium term,  and the December 11 press release announcing that the province is  exploring  private-sector interest in building a new oil refinery .

Canadian press coverage of pipelines lacks workers’ voices

ccpa-bc_jobsvsenvironment whose voices are missingJobs vs the Environment? Mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies  examines how the press—classified into corporate and alternative outlets —treats the relationship between jobs and the environment, and how frequent and influential are the voices of workers and labour unions. The report uses two sophisticated methods of communications analysis – content analysis and critical discourse analysis – to examine two samples:  The first sample comprises 129 articles about Canadian pipeline projects from the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto  Globe and Mail  representing corporate media; articles from Ricochet, The Tyee, and the National Observer  represent alternative media.  The second examination was slightly different, made up of 170 articles about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and two commuter tabloids in Vancouver, and including Rabble.ca  to the previously examined alternative sources of  Ricochet, The Tyee, and National Observer.

The analysis is detailed and makes many interesting observations. Briefly, the authors conclude from these samples that both  mainstream and alternative media frequently reinforce the assumption that there is a trade-off between environmental protection and job creation. Though alternative media are more critical  of pipeline projects and provide more of the  perspectives of Indigenous people and environmentalists, the authors conclude that  “neither corporate nor alternative media gave much voice to the perspectives of workers and their unions.” And  “while job creation is often touted as a rationale for pipeline projects, the actual workers and their unions—the presumed beneficiaries of fossil fuel expansion—appear to be largely missing from news reportage.”

To sum up, they write that : “… alternative media provide analyses and sources that help counterbalance the apparent extractivist orientation of the corporate press. They make a valuable contribution to well-rounded public discussion and offer perspectives on energy, climate and economic policies that are evidently under-represented in the corporate press.

The authors briefly discuss the labour press – mentioning Rank and File.ca  specifically, and see a role for the labour media in the climate and energy debate. They state: “….. labour’s voice in the media system is muted. There are many reasons why a movement for a just transition has not gained greater traction. Governments have not sufficiently committed to retraining and other supportive measures, and thus there are few working examples for just transition advocates to highlight. But part of the problem lies in the lack of public arenas for exploring the common ground between workers and environmentalists regarding a low-carbon economy. Engaging the public imagination about such a necessary transition would be a valuable goal for corporate and alternative media, as well as media produced by the labour movement itself.”

The authors are Robert A. Hackett, a professor emeritus, and  Philippa R. Adams, a PhD student, both from the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  The publisher is the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry,  jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC and Saskatchewan Offices and the Parkland Institute.

Return of oil and gas jobs? New pipelines and new technology are essential conditions

The headline of a Calgary Herald story on March 30 warns: “ Another 8,700 oil jobs are at risk if prices drop below US$50 for a sustained period, according to new study” .  Based on a labour market study by Enform consultancy,  the Herald states that this possible job loss would follow the loss of 52,500 direct jobs between 2015 and 2016, without even taking into account the job turmoil caused by the 2017 mergers and acquisitions in the Canadian oil sands: Canadian Natural Resources and Shell  ; Cenovus Energy and Conoco Phillips; and most recently, Enbridge and Spectra Energy  .

oil sandsThe original Enform study on which the newspaper article is based provides much more detail.  Labour Market Outlook 2017 to 2021 for Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry  was prepared by PetroLMI, a Division of Enform, and was partly funded by Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives program.  It reports that the oil and gas industry directly employed an estimated 174,000 workers at the end of 2016, (down by 25 per cent from the industry peak of over 226,000 in 2014). It forecasts job growth for two different scenarios – oil prices well above or well below  US$50 per barrel from  2017- 2021 .  The “modest recovery” scenario, (prices above US $50) ìs forecast to support an annual average of 554,000 direct and indirect jobs in the next five years; the “Delayed Recovery” is forecast to support 508,000 jobs.  The report provides detailed statistics by subsectors, occupations, and regions.  The report also notes the shrinking labour pool, as workers are discouraged from remaining or entering the sector, and as older workers retire.  Although the forecast expects limited job recovery in the next two years, it concludes that the peak employment levels will not return.  “Heading towards 2021 and beyond, accessing world markets via new pipelines will be critical for full job recovery. Equally important will be investing in technology, innovation and a highly-skilled and technical workforce to sustain the productivity and efficiency gains achieved in the last few years. These things will be critical if the industry is to compete globally and make a transition through carbon regulations.”  See the full suite of forecasts for the oil and gas industry, including the LNG industry, here .

 

 

National Energy Board Modernization – Hearings are underway

Public hearings by the Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board   began in Saskatoon in January and will conclude in Montreal at the end of March (the schedule is here ).  With transparency and accountability a key concern about the NEB, it is surprising that no transcripts or submissions will be made available online, only government- prepared summaries . Fortunately, press reports are providing the public with some information:  an important example, a report by Andrew Nikoforuk from the Vancouver hearings appeared in The Tyee on  February 9, summarizing the testimony of Marc Eliesen, a former chair of Ontario and BC Hydro and a critic of the NEB since the 2014 Trans Mountain Pipeline hearings.  As quoted in  “Time to Reform Our ‘Captured’ National Energy Board, Says Expert” ,    Mr. Eliesen reiterated his earlier criticism that the NEB  a “captured regulator” that no longer operates in the public interest. “The attitudinal bias that stems from a close interaction between NEB board members, NEB staff and the energy industry, means the goals and aspirations of the Alberta energy sector have become those of the board.” Eliesen recommended that all current NEB board members should be replaced by people from a broader range of expertise, not just the oil and gas industry. He also recommended that the NEB’s head office be moved from Calgary back to Ottawa. In “How to Fix the National Energy Board, Canada’s ‘Captured Regulator’”  , DeSmog Blog (Feb 8) also summarized Eliesen’s testimony, as well as that of  Eugene Kung, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law.

Proposals for improving the discredited NEB have come from a Pembina Institute report:  Good Governance  in the era of low carbon: a Vision for a modernized National Energy Board   . From Pembina: “significant reforms to the NEB Act, and to the operating culture and practices at the Board, are required.”  The report lays out 9 essential conditions to transform energy regulation, including : “Energy regulators must be independent of bias and interferences from government and non-government stakeholders. …Energy regulators should proactively  and predictably support involvement of all interested parties and the public as a fundamental component of evidence gathering, decision-making and monitoring.”  Environmental Defence  has also weighed in with “Six key ways to modernize energy regulation in Canada”, and has also called for the restart of the Energy East Pipeline review process to wait until new rules for the NEB are in place. (the previous Energy East Review was declared void in January 2017).   The report and recommendations of the Expert Panel on Modernization of the National Energy Board is scheduled for  submission to the Minister of Natural Resources by mid-May 2017.

A whiff of the bias that so many have noted at the NEB continues, in one of the “related documents” provided at the Expert Panel website: the Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, titled Pipelines for Oil: Protecting our Economy, Respecting our Environment   (Dec. 2016).  It begins: “Petroleum pipelines, like highways, railways and power line corridors, are long established in Canada. They are instrumental to the quality of life and the standard of living we enjoy in Canada today. Pipelines have no equal when it comes to the safe, reliable and cost-efficient movement of petroleum over long distances. They are critically important to the creation of wealth in Canada and their use and development are in the public interest and the greater good of all Canadians.”  It pronounces on the concepts of social license, the public good, confidence in the regulatory process, then proposes an oil transportation strategy which includes pipelines and tankers.  From the conclusion:  “The Committee believes that new pipelines will act as a lifeline to the Canadian economy, which has been hard hit in the oil and gas sector. Pipelines to the east and west coasts will ensure that Canadian oil producers get the full value of this resource on world markets, reduce refineries’ dependence on oil imports and improve public safety. The Committee has made recommendations to Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Committee believes that these recommendations will help form a strategy to improve public confidence and break the paralysis preventing the construction of pipelines in Canada.”

Finally, the National Energy Board Modernization process is underway

The Review process for the Modernization of the National Energy Board has begun.  The Terms of Reference  are here, summarized on the website as focussing on “ governance and structure; mandate and future opportunities; decision-making roles, including on major projects; compliance, enforcement, and ongoing monitoring; engagement with Indigenous peoples; and, public participation.” Twelve Discussion Papers are available   to guide input.  Comments can be submitted online here , with a deadline of  March 31, 2017;   cross-country “engagement sessions” for the public will begin in Saskatoon on January 25, and end in Montreal on March 29.  The Expert Panel will deliver its report to the Minister of Natural Resources, with a  May 15 deadline.     See an article in the  National Observer (Jan. 16) , which notes that the process launch comes amidst legal challenges: Two First Nations of Northern Ontario have named the National Energy Board and the government of Canada as defendants in their suit against TransCanada pipeline, for failing to consult with them before  allowing work on a 30-kilometre stretch of the pipeline that runs through their traditional territories  (details here) .  A second  court challenge was filed on January 10 by community group Transition Initiative Kenora, asking that the entire Energy East consultation process be voided and re-started, because of the conflict of interest allegations of the Charest Affair  in  Fall 2016.     (more details about the court challenge from Energy Mix here or from Ecojustice here  )