Protecting Water for Fish
In 2014 we applauded government for passing the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), with which it fulfilled a long-standing commitment to better manage B.C.’s precious water resources. This followed several years of policy proposals and public consultation on a wide variety of issues, with thousands of people engaging to ensure BC’s new water law would give us the tools to effectively and sustainably manage this precious resource in uncertain times. The resulting Act represents a considerable step forward in water governance in B.C.; Deb Curran of the UVIC Environmental Law Centre described the WSA as the best environmental legislation in the last 10 years.
Despite the potential of the WSA, real environmental protection will only occur if strong and effective regulations are passed to bring the Act into force and implement its intentions.
One of these regulations was supposed to be legal protection for “environmental flow needs,” or the water a river or stream needs to provide habitat for fish and other aquatic habitat values. Statements by government prior to the passage of the WSA suggested that there would be a free-standing environmental flows regulation, and it’s clear the legislation intended as much (sections 15 and 17). However, we are now concerned that government is instead considering using only a policy to address environmental flow needs, and a policy is not binding. This will not offer sufficient certainty to protect key fish and other habitat values; in particular, decisions to protect flows for fish may be challenged at the Environmental Appeals Board if they are only supported by policy and not regulation.
We call on government to honour their commitment to legally protect water flows with a regulation and enforceable objectives that ensure the health of our streams, rivers, lakes, fish populations and aquatic ecosystems is paramount.
Level the Playing Field for U.S. Coal Shipments
With 12 million tonnes of coal already being transhipped from Montana and Wyoming to Asia, and more on the way, British Columbia is fast becoming the main western port of exit for U.S. exports of thermal coal, the worst contributor to global greenhouse gas pollution. U.S. coal competes for port space with B.C.’s own metallurgical coal (used to make steel). As a result, B.C. is facing proposals to ship more coal through Fraser Surrey Docks and Texada Island. As well, there are plans to build more coal shipping capacity to handle B.C.’s domestic metallurgical coal in North Vancouver. This would enable millions more tonnes of thermal coal to reach markets, put more coal trains and barges through neighbourhoods and coastal communities, and result in massive amounts of greenhouse gases polluting our atmosphere.
A movement of community, health, labour and business groups has come together to stop the expansion of U.S. thermal coal exports in B.C., in particular the proposal for a new trans-shipment project at Fraser Surrey Docks and Texada Island. Federal and provincial permits for the projects have been approved for the proposal despite widespread opposition and unprecedented public engagement on the issue.
All the while, U.S. thermal coal producers are taking advantage of an unfair playing field. Under the Carbon Tax B.C. coal producers pay $30/tonne of carbon for the greenhouse gases emitted in the mining, processing and transportation to ports, but U.S. producers don’t have to pay the tax. If U.S. coal exporters also paid for those emissions it would better reflect the real cost of thermal coal on our communities, our infrastructure and our climate. Equalizing carbon pricing for coal shipments from B.C. ports would level the playing field, bolster B.C.’s climate leadership and further discourage port expansion for a risky product from a dying industry.
A Fair, Independent B.C. Review for Kinder Morgan
The on-going National Energy Board (NEB) assessment of the proposal to triple the capacity of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline through southern B.C. is fast losing whatever public confidence it may have had. Throughout the review the NEB has ruled overwhelmingly in favour of the company, allowing Kinder Morgan to keep safety plans secret and ignore thousands of serious questions. Respected interveners such as Marc Eliesen, Robyn Allan and Watershed Watch Salmon Society have quit in disgust. Impacted municipal governments have condemned it and even B.C.’s Premier and Environment Minister (and government lawyers) have complained about the difficulty they have in getting questions answered. First Nations are undertaking their own reviews and looking to court challenges.
With no climate test, no examination of economic trade-offs, no public hearings and no cross-examination, half of British Columbians say they’re against Kinder Morgan’s proposal.
The B.C. government set five conditions that any pipeline proposals have to meet before it will consider any of the potentially hundreds of permits requiring its approval before a pipeline can be built. B.C. has an opportunity in its final submission in early September 2015 to lay out the criteria for what it means to “meet the five conditions”, thereby laying the groundwork for establishing a made-in-BC review.
Such a review needs to be co-designed with First Nations. It should not replicate the technical information and testimony gathering that has already occurred in the NEB process; however, it should identify and fill the gaps left by that process. In particular, it should include an assessment of the project’s full contribution to carbon pollution and climate change, the economic risks and trade-offs British Columbians would be expected to shoulder, and incorporate the robust public participation so lacking in the current process.
As the NEB’s January 2016 decision is largely a foregone conclusion, B.C. needs to clearly set out the pathway that will allow an independent review that respects First Nations, municipalities and B.C. citizens and transparently addresses environmental, social and cultural impacts before considering approval of any permits to build.