The Trudeau government’s proposed changes to the environmental impact assessment process for energy projects will harm future investment in Canada and cost the country jobs, says Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
Speaking at a pipeline industry conference in Calgary Tuesday, Notley also labelled Bill C-69 a “major overreach” by the federal government into the province’s constitutional right to develop and control its own natural resources.
“It hurts our competitive position by creating uncertainty especially with the potential inclusion of downstream emissions,” Notley said in an address that got warm applause. “We need to stop the regulatory merry-go-round, not supercharge it.”
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna introduced Bill C-69 earlier this year to deliver on a promise made by the Trudeau Liberals to undo major changes to federal environmental laws made by the former Harper government.
The Harper government said it was improving environmental protection when it introduced those changes in 2012, which actually reduced federal oversight of major industrial projects. Trudeau’s Liberals were elected in the 2015 campaign, promising to fix the system and restore public confidence in government oversight of industry.
Since the bill was introduced in the House of Commons in February, Alberta has been relatively quiet about its criticism of the legislation, preferring to work behind the scenes with federal public servants for changes to soften the potential impact on the energy industry.
Ministers to lobby for changes
With nothing to show for that effort, Notley said the province now is going public in its fight for changes by sending Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips to Ottawa to testify at Senate hearings into the bill.
Alberta is especially concerned about provisions in the bill that may allow regulators to consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from end users of oil or gas carried in a pipeline, not just the impact of the project itself, when evaluating its environmental sustainability.
“Albertans manage energy. That is an Albertan birthright,” she told reporters at a briefing after her speech at a downtown hotel. “Under no circumstances are we going to see that undermined.”
Asked if her New Democratic Party regime was prepared to file a legal challenge if the proposed law is passed without amendments, Notley demurred.
“I’m not quite ready to file a statement of claim,” she said. “I think we’re going to have a good public conversation.”
While the Alberta government and the oil and gas industry have said Bill C-69 goes too far, many environmental groups and scientists say it doesn’t truly allow for evidence-based evaluations of projects that could cause harm to the economy and ecosystems.
Richard Gottfried, the economic development critic for the province’s United Conservative Party, was in the packed ballroom as Notley said Albertans would not tolerate more missed deadlines and shifting goal posts on the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast.
Gottfried was dismissive of Notley’s tough talk and critical of an NDP government he says hasn’t pushed hard enough to see construction of the pipeline expansion proceed as planned.
“We’ve had assurances of pipeline construction and shovels in the ground and we’ve seen those goalposts move on numerous occasions,” Gottfried said.
Alberta watching Trans Mountain process like a hawk
The Trans Mountain project, if completed, would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline to 890,000 barrels of bitumen and other petroleum products daily from Alberta’s oil patch to a marine terminal in Metro Vancouver.
The project has been the subject of relentless protests and high-profile arrests for months. Hundreds of people were arrested at the site of the west coast terminal earlier this year.
In August, construction of the expanded link was halted after a court ruling concluded the Trudeau cabinet approved the project without considering the impact of a resulting increase in marine traffic and for failing in its legal duty to consult Indigenous groups that would be affected.
“The Federal Court of Appeal decision ruling against the Trans Mountain Pipeline was a profound indictment of Ottawa’s ability to manage our economy in the interest of all Canadians,” Notley said. “The frustration and anger it’s fueling are real.”
Last week, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said he would give the National Energy Board 22 weeks to reconsider its recommendations for Trans Mountain and come up with a new report.
#Alberta Premier Rachel Notley labels proposed law on environmental assessment of energy projects a “major overreach” by the federal government.
Sohi also said the government would name a “special marine technical advisor” to the NEB assist with the further review.
McCuaig-Boyd said Alberta will be observing the situation closely during the coming five months to make sure there are no further delays.
“That’s a reasonable timeframe to fix some of those gaps and get a plan moving forward,” she said. “We are going to watch that timeline like a hawk and make sure they stick to it.”