Alberta dissolves Energy Efficiency agency, weakens oil and gas approval process

Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act  passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11.  The latest in Alberta’s environmental roll-backs, Bill 22 is a 14-point omnibus bill which eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on large-scale industry such as the oil and gas industry.  The changes are summarized in  an article in in The Energy Mix (June 14) and  in The Globe and Mail .   Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” which asserts that Energy Efficiency Alberta  created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.  The Pembina Institute reaction also cites the job losses which will come from the decision, and states: “This move reinforces the negative image that the Government of Alberta was attempting to change when the EEA was installed as a major pillar of Alberta’s climate plan.”

The government justifies its decision in a blog  which doesn’t mention the job creation success of the agency.

Environmental rollbacks during Covid-19 in Canada and the U.S.

This post was updated on June 17 to include new developments in Alberta and Ontario. 

On June 3, Canadian journalist Emma McIntosh compiled and published a Canadian list of environmental rollbacks, and continues to update it as changes continue in almost every province.  “Here’s every environmental protection in Canada that has been suspended, delayed and cancelled during COVID-19” in the National Observer, is a compilation built by scouring news reports and legislative websites.  Although it includes all Canadian provinces, the Alberta and Ontario governments are highlighted as the worst offenders, including changes to Alberta’s environmental monitoring in the oil sands and weakening of air quality monitoring .  The inventory was updated to include Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act , which passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11. A 14-point omnibus bill, Bill 22 eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on the oil and gas industry. Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled “Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” – which states that “The agency created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.

In Ontario, early on, the government suspended part two of the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights, excusing the government from notifying or consulting the public on environment-related projects, changes or regulations.  Changes were also made to zoning requirements, to speed the development approval process. Unexpectedly,  the government restored the protections on June , although it has been vague about its reasoning, and more importantly, has not revealed what projects were approved during the suspension period.  “Doug Ford government restores environmental protections it suspended amid COVID-19” (June 15). The article notes that since Premier Doug Ford took office in  2017, “Ontario has cancelled 227 clean energy projects, wound down conservation programs, weakened endangered species protections and has taken away powers from the province’s environmental commissioner.”

In Newfoundland

Although it is not noted in the National Observer inventory yet (updating is ongoing) – Newfoundland joined the ranks of major actors on June 4, when the government press release announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”. This action reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”  A June 4 press release from the federal government endorses the move, according to their press release:  “The Government of Canada announces new regulatory measure to improve review process for exploratory drilling projects in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore” .  

It is notable that the Just Recovery for All campaign launched in Canada on May 25  calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages, and includes as one of its six principles:

“Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In the United States

Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic have been well-reported, with the New York Times maintaining  an ongoing register in “The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List” (last updated on May 20) and more recently, on June 4,  “ Trump, Citing Pandemic, Moves to Weaken Two Key Environmental Protections”. This article notes his Executive Order allowing agencies to waive required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, and a new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency which weakens air pollution controls under the  Clean Air Act regulations.

Greenpeace USA issued a response highlighting the racist intent of these changes, and DeSmog Blog published a blog “Trump EPA’s Refusal to Strengthen Air Quality Standards Most Likely to Harm Communities of Color, Experts Say“.

 

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A Just Plan to wind down B.C.’s Fossil fuel industry by 2050

Winding Down_report cover_CCPA-BC_1  Winding Down BC’s Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for climate justice in a zero-carbon economy   was released on March 4  by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project.  Authors Marc Lee and Seth Klein begin with an overview of the province’s  fossil fuel industries (including locations, production and reserves)  noting that all fossils produce one-quarter of B.C.’s GHG emissions, (most of which is from Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)). Calling the government’s current strategy of promoting LNG production through clean electricity “untenable”, the report proposes a four-point phase-out plan for all fossils over the next 20 to 30 years, including: 1. Establish carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits; 2. Invest in the domestic transition from fossil fuels and develop a green industrial strategy; 3. Ensure a just transition for workers and communities; 4. Reform the royalty regime for fossil fuel extraction.

To design a Just Transition plan, the authors cite as “helpful” the examples of the Alberta coal phase-out and the 2018 coal phase-out agreement in Spain, as well as the existing Columbia Basin Trust example of community transition.  In the long time frame of 20 to 30 years, they see the retirement of many existing workers, so that attrition will accomplish much of the job shedding. Although they say that Just-transition strategies “must include efforts to maintain employment in areas where jobs are likely to be lost” – implying reinvestment in resource-based communities – they also recognize the built-in gender bias of such a strategy and advocate investment in  public sector jobs – such as child care and seniors services.

To secure Just Transition funding

The report states:

“ ….BC should aim to invest 2 per cent of its GDP per year … or about $6 billion per year in 2019, an amount that would grow in line with the provincial economy. Assuring such levels of investment should give comfort to workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. Revenues from higher carbon taxes and royalty reforms (described below) would be an ideal source of funds, and/or governments could borrow (through green bonds) to undertake high levels of capital spending on decarbonization initiatives. In contrast, the 2019 BC Budget lists total operating and capital expenses for CleanBC over the next three years at, cumulatively, only $679 million, less than one-tenth of a percent of BC’s GDP.”

Managing Income loss for transitioned workers:

The authors state: “On average, fossil fuel workers make 28 per cent more than workers in the rest of the economy, although this includes gasoline station workers who earn  comparably low wages. Replacing more than $5 billion of income over the course of the wind-down period is therefore a central challenge”…. By assuming a 20 to 30 year time frame, they calculate a job substitution of 500 to 700 jobs per year, and state: “ There is no reason to believe that such a transition should be a problem if the right policy supports are implemented and a proactive green investment strategy is pursued to create alternative employment options.”  Earlier in the report, the authors estimate that, assuming the province invests 2 per cent of its GDP annually (about $6 billion in 2019) in green job creation, at least 42,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created  in a range of opportunities.

The CCPA offers an 8-page Executive Summary of the report, and an even briefer version , written by co-author Marc Lee, was published in the Vancouver Sun on March 8.

Clean Energy B.C. : reports reflect little progress in jobs and training; new Climate Solutions Council appointed

cleanbc logoAt the showcase Global 2020 conference in Vancouver on February 10, the government of British Columbia released the  2019 CleanBC Climate Change Accountability Report, titled Building a Cleaner, Stronger  B.C.. The report  is a comprehensive summary of the policies under the Clean BC plan, especially focused on energy efficiency in the built environment, waste management,  and electrification of transportation. Amongst the statistical indicators reported: The carbon intensity of B.C’s economy has gone down 19% over the last 10 years while jobs  in the environmental and clean tech sectors have doubled. The report provides detailed emission forecasts and breakdowns by sector. Ironically, given the current Canada-wide protests in solidarity with the Coastal GasLink dispute with the Wet’suwet’en people,  Section 7 highlights co-operative relations with Indigenous People.  Section 4 reports on the oil and gas industry.

Jobs and job training under Clean BC: 

The 2019 Accountability Report  briefly mentions the “CleanBC Job Readiness Plan”, for which consultations were held for one month, in November 2019 (discussions archived here) . It states: “Our job readiness plan will respond to feedback from stakeholders, assessments of labour market conditions and economic trends in a low-carbon economy—providing a framework for sector-specific actions and guiding investments in skills training. Consultations will continue into 2020.” The named sectors of interest are: clean buildings and construction, energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, sustainable tourism, sustainability education, and urban planning.

Indicators to measure “affordability, rural development, the clean economy and clean jobs, reconciliation and gender equality ” are promised for future reports.  Until then, there there are no statistical measures of the impact of the CleanBC policies on jobs, incomes, or workers.  In Appendix A, which summarizes current initiatives and their GHG emissions reduction impact, the category of “Economic Transition” does not measure jobs or income. Another sector- specific chart in Appendix A includes the category:  “Helping people get the skills they need”, but it does not quantify how that would impact GHG emissions reduction, and  consists of two entries: • “Develop programs like Energy Step Code training and certification, and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation • Expand job training for electric and other zero-emission vehicles.”  Elsewhere in the text, two programs are briefly highlighted:  the new EV Maintenance Training Program at B.C. Institute of Technology, and the Sustainable energy engineering program at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.  On page 64, the report highlights skills training programs for small business, citing the BC Tech Co-op Grant, ( up to $10,800 for hiring new coop students in clean tech).

Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council releases a final report and recommendations to end its mandate; New Climate Solutions Council appointed

The February 10 government press release also announced the appointment of a new Climate Solutions Council to act as an independent advisor, and to track progress on Clean BC Phase 2.  The new Council replaces the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, which completed its 2-year mandate at the end of 2019 with the publication of a final report and recommendations, here . While attention now shifts to the new Council, the detailed recommendations of the original Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council merit consideration – although they reflect a primary concern with business, and particularly natural resources (worth noting here: the Council was co-chaired by the Senior VP, Sustainability & External Affairs of Teck Resources – the same company whose controversial Frontier oil sands mine project in Alberta is awaiting a  federal cabinet decision in February 2020.)   The voice of labour comes through most clearly in the Recommendations regarding the proposed Implementation Plan (p. 7), which calls  for “ Stronger focus on just transition planning, including the Labour Readiness Plan: Government needs a stronger plan for labour readiness and adjustment. This would take the form of more funding and details regarding the assessment, timeline, output and desired outcomes, and the Ministry or Ministries responsible.” The Council also notes that “enduring support will necessitate ongoing engagement with Indigenous and nonIndigenous communities, industry, civil society, youth and young adults, organized labour, and utilities.”

The new Climate Solutions Council  is Co-chaired by Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, and Colleen Giroux-Schmidt, vice-president of Corporate Relations, Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.  Along with environmentalists, First Nations, and academics such as Marc Jaccard and Nancy Olewiler, the new Climate Solutions Council includes Labour representation by David Black, (President of MoveUP), and  Danielle (DJ) Pohl , (President of the Fraser Valley Labour Council).  Industry representatives include Tom Syer, (Head of Government Affairs , Teck Resources),  Skye McConnell, (Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Shell Canada), and Kurt Niquidet, (Vice-President of the Council of Forest Industries).  All members are listed and profiled here  .

Ontario updates: Advisory Panel on Climate Change appointed; Auditor General pans climate policies; Ontario youth launch new lawsuit

Post updated November 6:

In a November 28 press release,  Ontario’s  Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks announced the appointment of an Ontario Advisory Panel on Climate Change . The press release quotes the new Chair, Paul Kovacs who states: “The knowledge exists to prevent losses from flooding, wildfire and other climate extremes…. “Members of the advisory panel on climate change look forward to working with the Government of Ontario to champion climate resilience. Working together, we can break the alarming trend of rising severe weather damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. Action on climate resilience is a critical element of a comprehensive strategy on climate change.”

Members of the Advisory Panel come from a variety of sectors including non-profits, agriculture, insurance, and reflect the Panel’s focus on adaptation and conservation concerns. Neither green advocacy groups nor workers are represented. The brief bios of panelists are here :  Chair Paul Kovacs is founder and Executive Director of the  Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University; Vice-Chair Lynette Mader is the Manager of Provincial Operations for Ontario for Ducks Unlimited Canada and an expert on species-at-risk.  The other eight Panel members include Blair Feltmate , head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo and Chair of the Government of Canada Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation and Resilience Results.

ontario auditor general 2019The Advisory Panel was announced on the one-year anniversary of the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.   On December 4,  that policy initiative was reviewed when the provincial Auditor General tabled her annual report in the Legislature, including  Volume 2:  Reports on the Environment . In 183 pages and three chapters, the report provides an overview of  1. environmental issues in Ontario; 2. Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights, and 3. Climate Change: Ontario’s plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report details the government’s performance and finds that it has double-counted emissions reductions in some cases, over-estimated potential impacts of its own policies,  and is nowhere near able to meet its own 2030 emissions reductions targets.   The National Observer summarizes the report in “Ontario Auditor General slams Doug Ford’s climate policies”  and an analysis at the  TVO website tells a similar story in  “Ontario’s Auditor General gives the Tories’ climate plan a failing grade”.  This latest report follows on the previous  highly-critical report of the outgoing Environmental Commissioner,  A Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  (March 2019), and  the Failure to Launch   report in October 2019 by Environmental Defence.

Youth launch lawsuit against Ontario government

All of these negative findings won’t help the government as they prepare to defend themselves against a new  climate change lawsuit by Ontario youth  who claim that the  Ford government’s softening of emissions reductions targets “will lead to widespread illness and death,” and thus has violated their charter rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Seven  applicants from communities across Ontario, ranging in age from 12 to 24, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP .  Details are in the Ecojustice  Case Backgrounderan overview of the action appears in the National Observer in  “These Ontario kids are taking climate protest from streets to courthouse” (Nov. 26).

mathur v province of ontario