Controversial New Water Legislation Introduced in B.C.

The B.C. Government introduced Bill 18, the Water Sustainability Act, on March 11th. It updates the current legislation passed in 1909, and “will bring groundwater into the licensing system, and will expand government’s ability to protect fish and aquatic environments “. See http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/ for the legislation and all supporting documents.

In a November 2013 posting during the lengthy consultation phase, the government had outlined how the proposed changes would impact oil and gas development, including a pledge that “in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations” (see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2013/11/14/blog-post-6-water-and-oil-gas-development/). Yet on March 19, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. went before the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that Encana has systematically avoided the current water licensing regulations by applying to the provincial Oil and Gas Commission for repeated “short term” water permits for fracking (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/encana-s-water-permits-for-b-c-fracking-illegal-lawsuit-alleges-1.2578788).

The aspect of pricing commercial and industrial water use has been deferred by a period of further consultations; see the consultation paper, Pricing B.C.’s Water, at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/files/2014/03/Pricing-B.C.s-Water.pdf. Public comments will be accepted until April 8th.

On its 20th Anniversary, Criticism of NAFTA for Environmental, Economic Damage

A new report from the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and others, condemns the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for failing to improve economic and environmental conditions for most Canadian, American, and Mexican citizens.

According to the report, exports from Canada to the U.S. increased by 200 percent from 1994 to 2008, yet wages stagnated. Further, NAFTA contract obligations for oil encouraged development of the oil sands, while alternative energy sectors suffered, and NAFTA restricted Canada’s ability to regulate oil sands emissions. Pollution increased in the U.S. due to growth in dirtier manufacturing sectors, although employment in American manufacturing dropped overall.

In Mexico, small farmers were unable to compete with large-scale, export-oriented intensive agriculture. Many failed in attempts to improve profits by converting carbon-sequestering forest to arable land. While the mining industry in Mexico did enjoy a boom, smallholders lost out to associated industrial pollution. Wages in the maquila manufacturing sector near the U.S. border simultaneously stagnated, even as operations and pollution levels grew.

Other environmental impacts noted by the report include a significant jump in North American greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable water use, and the rippling effects of NAFTA clauses that provide corporations with legal avenues to challenge environmental regulations, such as Lone Pine Resources’ ongoing lawsuit against Canada over the Québec fracking moratorium (see our previous report at: https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2013/11/22/fracking-company-suing-for-lost-profits-in-quebec/).

See NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/main-page/new-report-reveals-environmental-costs-north-american-free-trade-agreement-environmental-d, and “NAFTA Report Warns of Trade Deal Environmental Disasters” from the Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/nafta-environment_n_4938556.html.

After 14 Years, Forestry Companies and Environmentalists Reach Joint Recommendations to the B.C. Great Bear Forest Agreement

On January 29th, recommendations were  announced by the parties of the Joint Solutions Project, comprised of the forest companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest (Western Forest Products, Interfor, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, BC Timber Sales and Catalyst) and three environmental groups (ForestEthics, Greenpeace and Sierra Club of BC). Highlights  of the 82-page document include: an additional 500,000 ha to be set aside for conservation; a harvest level consistent with a “viable forest industry”; changes to landscape planning that better account for old growth, cultural values, key wildlife habitat and riparian zones; and a legal and policy framework for implementation. The recommendations will be considered by the province of British Columbia and the Nanwakolas Council and Coastal First Nations, who are the decision-makers in the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, and in consultation with 12 other First Nations. The Joint Solutions Project was established in 2000 and the Great Bear Forest Agreement was reached in 2006.

See the ForestEthics press release at: http://forestethics.org/news/forest-companies-and-environmental-groups-deliver-joint-recommendations-great-bear-rainforest. The B.C. government press release is at: http://www.coastforestconservationinitiative.com/pdf2014/2014FLNR0005-000099.pdf.

WikiLeaks Releases Environmental Chapter in the Transpacific Trade Talks, Labelling it a “Public Relations Exercise”

On January 15th, Wikileaks released the draft Environmental Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The Chapter was written on Nov. 24, 2013, in advance of the December 10th Singapore meetings of the participant countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Wikileaks had this to say about the proposed environmental provisions of the trade deal: “The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise.” (see  http://wikileaks.org/tpp-enviro/pressrelease.html). Wikileaks also posted an analysis of the Environment Chapter from a New Zealand perspective, by Professor Jane Kelsey, at: http://wikileaks.org/tppa-environment-chapter.html.

In a blog by Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians, the provisions in the TPP draft chapter are likened to the current environmental protections under NAFTA (see  http://www.canadians.org/blog/climate-change-safeguarded-tpp-environment-chapter). This is a point of view also expressed in a 2013 report by the Sierra Club, which reviewed all chapters of the TPP (see Raw Deal:How the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens our Climate at: http://sc.org/RawDealReport).

The more recent response to the leaked Environment chapter from the Sierra Club, in conjunction with Natural Resources Defence Council and the WWF, describes the dispute resolution process as a “vastly insufficient process” “…an unacceptable rollback of previous commitments and renders the obligations in this chapter virtually meaningless.” (see http://sc.org/TPPEnvironment). Even before the Wikileaks revelations, BlueGreen Alliance, like many others in the U.S., was protesting the attempt to “fast-track” the TPP approval process through the U.S. Congress; see http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/news/latest/bluegreen-alliance-statement-fast-track-bill-strips-transparency-restricts-democratic-process. The Council of Canadians is one of more than 30 organizations participating in a January 31 Intercontinental Day of Action against the TPP and Corporate Globalization. (see http://www.flushthetpp.org/inter-continental-day-of-action-against-the-tpp-corporate-globalization/).

B.C. Court Challenge to Water Use in Fracking

EcoJustice, Sierra Club B.C., and The Wilderness Committee announced on November 13th that they have launched a lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court. The suit aims to stop the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission from granting repeated short-term water use approvals to oil and gas companies. This practice allows the gas industry to exploit fresh water for fracking operations (among other things). See the EcoJustice press release at:  http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/water-usage-by-fracking-operations-challenged-in-b.c.-supreme-court.

Labour and Environmentalists in the U.S. – Recent Developments

On the eve of the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention in September, the Climate Justice Alliance sent an open letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, to “implore Labor to join us in the fight against climate change.” (See http://www.ourpowercampaign.org/an-open-letter-to-the-afl-cio/).

Appealing for collaboration, the letter acknowledges the debt of all working people to the labour movement, and credits it for its skills in grassroots activism. Thus, “the environmental justice movement cannot halt climate change without organized labor. We need each other to win.” The letter concludes, “We request a meeting with the AFL-CIO leadership to discuss the Federation’s response to climate change and how to strengthen our collective struggles.” The AFL-CIO Convention website is at: http://www.aflcio.org/About/Exec-Council/Conventions/2013; their most recent Executive Council Statement on Energy and Jobs (Feb. 26, 2013) is at: http://www.aflcio.org/About/Exec-Council/EC-Statements/Statement-on-Energy-and-Jobs, with context and analysis about that statement by the Labor Network for Sustainability at: http://www.labor4sustainability.org/articles/labor-climate-and-the-kxl-interpreting-the-new-afl-cio-statement-on-energy-and-jobs/.

For more context, see “Will closer Partnership between Labor and Greens Help Build Both Movements?” at the Sierra Club website at: http://sierraclub.typepad.com/compass/2013/09/will-closer-partnership-between-labor-and-greens-help-build-both-movements.html, and also “When Fighting for Coal Plants is absolutely the Right Thing to Do”, at the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/when-fighting-to-save-a-coal-plant-is-absolutely-the-right-thing-to-do/

What does the New Obama Climate Change Plan Mean for Keystone – and what is Stephen Harper Doing about it?

On what has become the defining issue of his climate policy, President Obama stated that he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.” In a New York Times interview in July, the President downplayed the job creation impact of Keystone XL, saying that, after construction, “we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.” See “Obama Says He’ll Evaluate Pipeline Project Depending on Pollution” (NY Times, July 28) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/us/politics/obama-says-hell-evaluate-pipeline-project-depending-on-pollution.html?ref=politics

On July 23, a Natural Resources Defence Council White Paper on the Keystone’s impact calls for the denial of approval on the grounds that the pipeline would exacerbate global carbon pollution. Further, the paper states, “Canada is not pursuing climate policy that would effectively counteract significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions, or meet its international climate target. … Current regulations in Alberta are inadequate, and despite promises from the last four Canadian federal environmental ministers, the Canadian federal government has not yet introduced rules to effectively limit greenhouse gas pollution from Canada’s oil and gas sector.” (See the White Paper at: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_13072301b.pdf).

Until now, the Canadian government has used the job creation and energy security arguments to promote oil sands development and the Keystone XL pipeline (as exemplified in its Go with Canada Website). But on September 6th, CBC reporter Chris Hall reported that Prime Minister Harper sent a letter to Obama in August, “formally proposing ‘joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector'”. See Harper offers Obama climate plan to win Keystone approval (Sept. 6) at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/09/06/pol-harper-canada-us-climate-change-strategy-letter-keystone.html.

So far, Obama has not responded to Harper’s proposal, and the Canadian government has not announced any new policies or regulations for GHG emissions. The Keystone XL decision is now deferred till 2014, after the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General confirmed a delay in the inquiry about potential conflict of interest in the environmental review process.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of protest against Keystone XL goes on: a report released on August 29 by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International compiles data and failcommentary “from oil industry experts, Wall Street analysts, and Canadian politicians who say on the record that without Keystone XL the industry cannot expand production of tar sands crude”. Sources for the report include Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Royal Bank of Canada, International Energy Agency, Standard & Poor, TransCanada, Government of Alberta, Scientific American, Financial Post, and others. Read the report: FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test at: https://content.sierraclub.org/beyondoil/sites/content.sierraclub.org.beyondoil/files/documents/kxl-climate-report.pdf

Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington

Over 1,800 union workers, environmentalists, business and non-profit leaders gathered from April 16 to 18 for the 2013 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference, sponsored by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. This year’s official theme was Let’s Get to Work: Climate Change, Infrastructure and Innovation. In the opening panel, the message was the common cause in the fight for workers rights and environmental rights: speakers were CWA President Larry Cohen, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, USW President Leo Gerard, and SEIU Property Services Division Deputy Director Jon Barton. Videos, summaries and blogs from the proceedings are available at the conference website at http://www.greenjobsconference.org/.  

U.S. State Department Releases New Jobs Estimates for Keystone XL Pipeline

The U.S. State Department released the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL on Friday March 1, making no recommendations for or against approval of the pipeline project. A 45-day period has commenced to allow for public comments, with a final supplemental environmental impact statement to be released before a government decision, expected no earlier than Summer 2013.

Although mainly assessing environmental impacts, the report includes a socioeconomic section which provides new data: a wider view of impacts (including housing, public services support, fiscal revenues and private property valuations), and more detailed estimates about job creation and earnings impacts. According to the new estimates, 42,100 indirect jobs and 3,900 direct jobs would be created during the one- to two-year construction period, but the ongoing operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, mostly for inspections, maintenance and repairs.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver summed up the Canadian government position on the Keystone XL pipeline when he traveled to Houston Texas on March 6 to address the Huston oil workers. He stated: “The oil sands generate jobs and economic prosperity both in Canada and in the United States. Currently, oil sands production supports 63,000 American jobs per year. With expansion through Keystone and other projects, the oil sands will support tens of thousands more on both sides of the border.”

LINKS

Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL is available in a series of PDF files at: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/draftseis/index.htm

Detailed Socioeconomic estimates, including employment and earnings, are published in Section 3.10 at: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205641.pdf and Section 4.10 at: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205612.pdf

All documents related to the project are posted on a dedicated State Department website at: http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/

Reactions to the statement from:
TransCanada Pipeline http://www.transcanada.com/6209.html;

National Resources Defence Council (U.S.) at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/sclefkowitz/keystone_xl_tar_sands_pipeline_7.html;