OFC Scoop 7: March 2016

Moving BC from laggard to leader!

UPDATE: The consultation period deadline has been extended to April 8th!

For more than eight years B.C. has been trumpeting its ‘climate leader’ status, both at home and around the world. Premier Campbell’s original climate action package included a bold carbon tax, a well-funded home retrofit program, and a commitment to adding only renewable energy to our electricity grid, among other policies. B.C. was on its way to meeting the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets enshrined in legislation.

It worked for a while, with B.C. posting reductions in its emissions at a rate greater than would be expected if only linked to the 2009/10 economic downturn, based on a comparison with the rest of Canada. B.C.’s economy also performed better than the rest of Canada despite the climate measures.

However, the Clark government chose to freeze the carbon tax at 2012 levels ($30/tonne) in advance of the 2013 election. In fact, no new climate measures have been taken beyond the first suite despite government knowing that we could not meet our 2020 targets without additional measures. Worse, our GHG emissions have started rising again and it’s highly unlikely BC could meet the 2020 targets even if we tried. That doesn’t sound like leadershipanymore.

Fortunately, government recognized it needs to do more to get B.C. back on track. It brought together a multi-sector Climate Leadership Team with the mandate to develop recommendations on how B.C. could meet its legislated targets, while continuing economic growth. That team delivered a set of recommendations last fall and government is now seeking public input on the package, until April 8th. Those recommendations include:

  1. Increase the carbon tax by $10/tonne/year, offset by a 1% decrease in the PST, additional credits for northern and rural residents, and specific support to those sectors that are particularly emissions-intensive and trade-exposed;
  2. Set a new emissions target of 40% below 2007 by 2030
  3. Set sector-specific targets for methane, buildings, and transportation; and
  4. Commit to 100% clean electricity by 2025.

Taken together, as they should be, these recommendations would help B.C. regain its climate leader status, create new jobs as B.C. stays competitive in a low carbon world, and lower household energy costs as we become more efficient over time.

To gather your input, government has provided a consultation document and a feedback page where you can tell them what you think of the plan. To give you a bit more help we offer the following resources:

The key things government needs to hear about B.C.’s climate action are:

give feedback button

Water, rainforests and spill response

GBR Bear photoIt’s been a surprisingly busy spring session for environmental issues already, though you wouldn‘t have guessed that from the lackluster Throne Speech that kicked it off. We’ve seen the final measures to implement the historic Great Bear Rainforest agreement, including the new GBR Act; new measures to improve B.C.’s response to spills of dangerous substances; and the first round of regulations under the 2014 Water Sustainability Act which brings that legislation into force, meaning it now officially replaces the century-old Water Act. Whew!

Great Bear Rainforest (Forest Management) Act, Bill 2 and Great Bear Rainforest Order:

Almost 20 years in the making, these two legislative pieces represent the culmination of many years of conflict, negotiation, and enormous efforts by all parties to figure out how the forest and the communities that depend on them, in particular the First Nations, can all persist into the future. Most of the protected areas in this magnificent, 6.4-million-hectare region have been legislated in previous years; with this legislation and Land Use Objectives the final pieces necessary to implement Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) on the rest of the landbase are in place. Eighty-five percent (3.1 million hectares) of the remote wilderness region’s coastal temperate rainforests are now permanently off-limits to industrial logging. The remaining 15 percent (550,000 hectares) of the forest will be subject to the most stringent commercial logging legal standards in North America. First Nations oversight of their lands has been strengthened and new community development opportunities negotiated as a result of the government-to-government implementation process. For more info on what was achieved, check out this backgrounder from the Rainforest Solution Project (ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club BC).

Land-based Spill Preparedness, Response and Recovery, under Bill 21, the Environmental Management Amendment Act, 2016:

Given the broad range of potentially hazardous substances that criss-cross our province in multiple ways every day, thechanges to this Act are welcome. They place more, and more detailed, planning and response requirements on shippers, and require industry/potential spillers to cover the costs of preparing for a spill, not just responding after the fact. However, as with most legislation these days, the Act is mainly enabling meaning the real meat of it will come in the regulations to be developed later. Many key questions remain to be resolved, particularly around how much control industry will have over the organization being established to oversee planning and response: given that one of the primary drivers behind this legislation was to bolster public trust in B.C.’s spill response capacity, leaving too much control in industry hands could prevent that from happening. As well, it was unfortunate that government tried to paint these provisions as addressing one of B.C.’s five conditions for the approval of heavy oil pipelines (world leading land-based spill response) when the legislation itself makes no mention of this and contains no strategies to address specific challenges that would arise from a diluted bitumen spill. Stay in touch with Georgia Strait Alliance to see how this issue, and the regulations in particular, evolve.

Water Sustainability Regulations, by Orders in Council under the Water Sustainability Act, 2014:

While not legislation, the first round of regulations under the new Water Sustainability Act brought that important legislation into effect, finally replacing our 100-year-old Water Act. There are still several other regulations to be developed in the coming months and years, but these first ones included the process for licensing the more than 20,000 non-domestic wells already in existence, as well as any new ones. It also covers sensitive streams, making changes “in and about a stream”, using deep saline aquifers for oil & gas activities, and the new water pricing regime, among other topics.

Finally licensing groundwater use in B.C. is a significant improvement, as is the requirement to now recognize the connection between groundwater and surface water. However, it appears that in transitioning existing users to groundwater licenses decision-makers will not be required to ensure there is sufficient water for streams and fish, which was supposed to be another big improvement of the new law. This could lock-in over-allocation problems in specific areas for years to come. As various experts review the new regulations they’re finding a variety of other concerns, which highlight the need for better public engagement in the development of regulations than happened in this first round. Make sure you’re signed up with Our Water BC to ensure that when we need to push back on the key deficiencies in these regulations, and for better ones going forward, we can count on your voice!

Policy Priority Update: Kinder Morgan: A court-mandated “Made in B.C.” approach to pipeline consultation?

Kinder MorganJanuary 2016 may come to be seen a turning point in the fight against pipeline and tanker expansion in B.C.

It started with a strong final submission from the provincial government detailing how the Kinder Morgan proposal didn’t meet its five conditions, especially those requiring ‘world leading’ land and marine oil spill response.

Later in the month the National Energy Board (NEB) hosted its closed “public hearings”, keeping it on schedule to meet its current May 20th deadline for making a recommendation on the proposal. But the release of the federal government’s “transition approach” for Kinder Morgan and Energy East – pipeline projects already in the flawed regulatory process the feds want to fix – laid out additional assessments for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from upstream (associated with extraction, upgrading, dilution, and transportation of bitumen) and direct (associated with the pipeline itself) activities, as well as intentions to do its own First Nations consultation and seek more public input. They have pushed out their own deadline to make a decision by four months, to December 2016.

But it’s the mid-January decision by the B.C. Supreme Court on a challenge lodged by the Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations that must have the provincial government scrambling.

The province has signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government mandating the NEB to conduct environmental assessments for both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals (among other projects), thereby avoiding duplication of the assessment process. While the court agreed B.C. could do this, it said that it did not absolve BC of making its own decision about issuing an environmental assessment (EA) certificate, including fulfilling requirements for First Nations consultation. It also said that B.C. must consult First Nations before making a decision to not terminate an equivalency agreement (and conduct its own assessment) within the period allowed for that.

The implications of this decision are that both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are now missing a key regulatory requirement (a provincial EA certificate), and that the province must consult and accommodate First Nations before issuing them. Given the province’s condemnation on the poor public consultation in the NEB’s Kinder Morgan process, they would have a hard time excluding a public engagement component as well, which would allow for comment on whether the new provincial land-based spill response legislationreally does meet condition #3 (as the province claims), among many other things.

The NEB has worked hard to limit and constrain public input in the Kinder Morgan process; that prerogative may have now been taken from them.

For more information:

Province Can’t Pass the Buck on Oil Pipelines: B.C. Supreme Court, West Coast Environmental Law

Gitga’at: Another Legal Earthquake for Oil Pipelines, Dogwood Initiative