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.

 

ILO report about Indigenous People’s role in the green economy; Canadian First Nations and clean energy

An April report released by the ILO, Indigenous peoples and climate change: From victims to change agents through Decent Work rejects the characterization of Indigenous people as “victims”.  The report states that indigenous peoples, numbering  over 370 million worldwide , “are at the vanguard of running modern green economies”, and “if they have access to decent work opportunities; if they are empowered to participate in decision making; if their rights are protected; and if policies address their social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities while honing their positive potential as partners, workers, entrepreneurs and innovators, indigenous peoples will become empowered agents of change who can play a vital role in spurring green growth and combating climate change.”

As if to prove the points of the ILO report, a press release on April 24 announced the results of a survey conducted by the University of Victoria Environmental Studies for   B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group and  Clean Energy B.C.First Nations and Renewable Energy Development in British Columbia reports the results of a survey conducted from October 2016 to February 2017, showing that 47% of the 105 First Nations respondents are involved in the clean energy industry in some way – from ownership to receiving royalties. There are currently 78 operating projects, (in which they have invested over $35million), plus 49 projects under development and an additional 249 projects that they want to build, ranging from wind farms to solar installations to run of river power generation. 61% of First Nation respondents said the biggest barrier for their projects is the lack of opportunity to sell power to B.C. Hydro, because the utility has stopped buying power from independent producers,  projecting a surplus of power from the controversial Site C dam.  (DeSmog Canada compiles the latest news and research about the Site C project here.)

First Nations across Canada are also active investors in green energy, according an article in the Toronto Star April 26, “Six Nations of Grand River lead the charge on green energy”   . The article mentions projects in Quebec and Manitoba, and highlights the Ontario Six Nations of the Grand River solar and wind projects as exemplary – most recently, the Oneida Business Park in Ohsweken, Southwestern Ontario, which was awarded Aboriginal Project of the year by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association in summer 2016.

six nations development corporationSix Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation (SNGRDC) manages the Six Nations’ economic interests in 17 renewable energy projects and numerous economic development opportunities. It employs over 100 people.  SNGRDC’s current green energy portfolio is capable of producing over 900 MW of renewable energy through its direct or indirect involvement in 10 solar, 6 wind and one hydroelectric project(s). Consultation is currently underway about another investment in a solar project near the now-decommissioned Nanticoke coal-burning power plant – which will consist of  175,000 to 210,000 solar photovoltaic  panels on 4 parcels of land either owned or leased by Ontario Power Generation.   The Grand River Employment and Training (GREAT) administration is involved to promote employment of First Nations workers in the contruction phase.

In January 2016,  the Whitesand First Nation also received an OSEA award for their sustained efforts to launch a 3.64 MW combined heat and power biomass plant, which will provide electricity to three communities of the Far-north.

June 2016 News: British Columbia

Controversy in B.C. over the Pembina Institute report released on June 14, How do B.C.’s Climate Action commitments stack up?  .  The report uses modelling by the Canadian Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project Team to predict that  B.C.’s emissions will rise 39 per cent above their 2014 level by 2030 following the current policies.  Over 80 per cent of the emissions increase between 2014 and 2030 is projected to come from oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas (LNG).  See also the Pembina Backgrounder  as well as “How B.C. became a Climate Laggard”   in the Globe and Mail , a review by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS)   and  “How the B.C. Government responded”  in The National Observer .

And public opinion continues to oppose current policies,  including  Petronas’ $36-billion Pacific Northwest LNG  development, and the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, where both the City of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation  have filed appeals in B.C. courts.   Even the academics at the normally apolitical Royal Society of Canada have issued an Open Letter  opposing the Site C Hydro Dam on the Peace River.  Against this backdrop, the government’s updated Climate Change policy is expected at the end of June.

First Nations crafting an Indigenous Climate Action Plan

At a January 2016 meeting of First Nations representatives, led by women from tar sands-impacted communities , a series of future educational, networking, and planning meetings was proposed, as a way of achieving an Indigenous Climate Change Action Plan . Sure to be on the agenda at the March 2 climate change discussions with the Prime Minister in Vancouver: the Site C hydropower dam on the Peace River, vehemently opposed by First Nations and environmental groups. The February 11,2016  Open Letter to the Prime Minister concludes: “The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights, and to promoting truly clean energy must listen.” The B.C. Supreme Court will rule on February 22 on an application by B.C. Hydro for an injunction against protesters at the construction site.

Unions continue to support Indigenous rights. Most recently, as reported at Rabble.ca (Feb. 9), the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) pledged to support the Save the Fraser Declaration, which states that ” we will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”

The Jobs Argument and the Costs of Energy Development: Two Views

A December study by the right-wing Fraser Institute starts from two foundations: “every proposed oil and gas project in Canada affects at least one First Nation’s community and secondly, these young and highly unemployed communities are sorely in need of jobs. Oil and gas development can provide those jobs and a way out of poverty and into prosperity.” To bolster its arguments, the study states that “In 2010, more than 1,700 aboriginal people were directly employed in oilsands operations. Over the past 12 years aboriginal-owned companies have secured more than $5 billion worth of contracts from oilsands developers in the region.”

The David Suzuki Foundation has released an alternative view in a report about industrial development in the Peace River Region. Passages from the Peace states that there are 16,267 oil and gas wells, 28,587 kilometres of pipeline, 45,293 kilometres of roads and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines packed into the region, and the  lives and well-being of local First Nations and non-aboriginal farming communities is being adversely affected. Suzuki will present the report during the public consultation period (December and January) of a 3-person joint federal and provincial Environmental Assessment Panel which is touring the Peace River Region in Northern British Columbia. The Site C Dam proposed by B.C. Hydro is a $7.9-billion hydroelectric dam proposed to be built seven kilometres downstream from Fort St. John, and would flood an 83-kilometre stretch of the Peace River upstream, as well as the mouth of the Moberly and Halfway Rivers. Opponents are also concerned about the impact downstream, on Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As yet there is no First Nations consensus position, and B.C. Hydro is arguing that the project is expected to produce 10,000 direct jobs and employment for thousands more indirectly.

LINKS

Opportunities for First Nation Prosperity through Oil and Gas Development is at: http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/opportunities-for-first-nation-prosperity-through-oil-and-gas-development.pdf

Passages from the Peace, is at the David Suzuki Foundation website at:  http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/reports/2013/passages-from-the-peace-community-reflections-on-changing-peace-region/

“First Nations welcome Site C review panel” (Dec. 9) in the Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/first-nations-welcome-site-c-review-panel/article15835573/