The federal government announced on Wednesday the upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with pipeline projects will be taken into consideration when federal cabinet makes its decisions on pipeline projects.
“We are considering direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions,” Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said. McKenna along with Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr made the announcement.
“Today’s announcement is a great step forward and shows the federal government is listening to Canadians,” Kai Nagata, Dogwood Initiative’s energy and democracy director, told DeSmog Canada. “The dark days of the National Energy Board are coming to an end.”
The new measures will apply to pipeline projects currently under regulatory review, such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline projects, according to Carr. Five principles that proposed pipelines will be measured against were unveiled. One of those includes “meaningful consultation” for Indigenous peoples.
“This is a real test of this government’s commitments to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, 350.org’s Stop it at the Source Campaigner. “At the heart of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the right to free, prior and informed consent. That means Indigenous Peoples have the right to say ‘No’ when it comes to projects like pipelines and its responsibility of the government to listen.”
The changes are too little, too late, according to Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell.
“These interim measures are a welcome band-aid, but they are not enough to inject science and evidence-based decision-making into the Kinder Morgan review process,” Campbell said. “The outcome of the National Energy Board review must still be to reject this project, until the flaws in the application are remedied, and the full regional impacts of the project are fully considered.”
Both ministers were clear upstream and direct GHG emissions will be “a factor in the decision making process.” How much weight a project’s GHG emissions will be given compared to its economic benefits is unclear.
“Climate plays into the economic viability of these projects,” Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager with Environmental Defence Canada, said. “How do these projects fit into a world of high carbon taxes and shifting away from oil?”
Like Nagata, Scott says he is “very encouraged” the federal government is listening to Canadians. However, he is concerned Carr, although acknowledging the problems with the current National Energy Board, is still allowing the review of Energy East to go ahead without reforming the board first. The National Energy Board is Canada’s federal pipeline regulator.
“There’s no legal reason for Energy East to go through the old broken process,” Scott told DeSmog Canada. “The review hasn’t even started yet and the board has not determined if TransCanada’s application is complete.”
Wednesday’s announcement has little effect on the workings of the National Energy Board itself. The Environment Ministry, not the Board, will conduct the assessments of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions. The five principles are transition measures to be kept in place until an overhaul of the NEB can take place.
McKenna said revamping the board could take “a number of years.”
The federal government will also extend the timeframes in which decisions on Energy East and Trans Mountain must be made. Legislative changes under the previous Conservative government mandated that proposed pipelines made it through the regulatory process within 15 months.
An extra six months will now be tacked on to the review of the Energy East pipeline. For the Trans Mountain pipeline, which is in its final round of hearings, no federal decision will be made until December of this year.
“The fact there’ll be no construction on Trans Mountain this summer is good news for people of B.C.’s Lower Mainland,” Nagata said.
The extra time is meant to give the federal government more time to assess emissions, consult with Indigenous peoples and the general public in what Carr describes as “setting up a process beyond the NEB’s mandate and timelines.”
Nagata welcomes this decision as well, but questions still remain.
“How do you put a timeline on meaningful consultations with First Nations?” Nagata asked.
Another unanswered question and an issue most Canadian politicians tend to dance around is how does an oil pipeline pass a climate test?
“A climate test on pipelines is only meaningful if it respects the commitment to 1.5ºC that Prime Minister Trudeau made in Paris, and that would mean taking pipelines and tar sands expansion off the table,” Cameron Fenton, 350.org’s tarsands organizer stated in a media release.
“There’s no such thing as a climate-friendly pipeline. The science is crystal clear: in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, fossil fuels, and especially tar sands, need to stay in the ground,” Fenton said.
Alberta-based energy think tank Pembina Institute estimates the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the Energy East pipeline (1.1 million barrels per day capacity) are the equivalent of putting an additional seven million cars on the road.
Twenty-seven climate experts in a 2014 open letter projected Trans Mountain “alone is expected to lead to 50 per cent more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of a recent backlash by pro-pipeline politicians against Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who announced last week that 82 Montreal-area municipalities oppose the Energy East pipeline.
For the last month, First Nations, environmental organizations and politicians such as Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan have called on the federal government to suspend the current regulatory reviews of existing pipeline projects until after the promised overhaul of the National Energy Board.
Image Credit: Screenshot CBC News