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Federal government walks back on proposal to improve reviews of major GHG emitters

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

All projects that pose a climate risk must receive a rigorous assessment, say environmental lawyers

OTTAWA – On Wednesday, the federal government released draft regulations that would exempt high-carbon projects from impact assessment under Bill C-69, a move environmental lawyers say will significantly undermine Canada’s ability to meet its climate change obligations.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have just 11 years to turn this ship around or face catastrophic climate change effects,” said Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “Now is the time to ratchet up ambition, not to overlook climate impacts and capitulate to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.”

In a consultation paper released last year, the government proposed requiring assessments of all projects that would emit more than a defined threshold of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). It also announced a strategic assessment of climate change to improve the way it reviews climate change effects of projects like pipelines, oil sands mines and liquefied natural gas plants.

The draft regulations released today do not contain a trigger for assessments based on a project’s GHG emissions, and suggest exempting in-situ oil sands mines in provinces like Alberta where there is an emissions cap in place. Similarly, details released last month regarding the strategic assessment of climate revealed that impact assessments under C-69 will not consider the downstream (end user) emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“Impact assessment is meant to ensure we look before we leap, and that we take off any blinders that might result in a poor decision,” said Gage. “Instead, the government is running full-tilt towards the cliff, blindfolded.”

West Coast Environmental Law Association is calling on the federal government to ensure all projects that will emit more than 50,000 tonnes of GHGs per year are assessed in every province, and to enact regulations that require all emissions associated with proposed development to be assessed. Today’s proposed regulations would require an assessment of oil and gas projects based on the project’s energy output or capacity rather than actual GHG emissions or type of fossil fuel used.

In addition, the proposed regulations would dramatically reduce the circumstances under which oil and gas pipelines will be assessed.

Lawyers say that the government’s proposed exemptions turn a blind eye to the millions of dollars of harm caused each year by climate change. The Canadian government’s Social Cost of Carbon estimates that in 2020, every 50,000 tonnes of GHGs released will cause $2.3 million in economic harm, although other experts have put the economic loss much higher.

“British Columbians watched their province burn last summer. Other parts of Canada are under water as we speak,” said Gage. “This government has made some good first steps on climate. Bill C-69 and its regulations are a critical opportunity to keep striding forward and show the world that Canada is a climate leader, not a climate laggard.”

The draft project list regulations are open for public comment until May 31st.

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Andrew Gage | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association