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The good news: Canada is in the final stages of developing a new federal law that will modernize our environmental assessment laws. The bad news: this practical and relatively modest goal has been the subject of an extensive misinformation campaign by the oil and gas industry.
The latest step in the campaign to Kill the Bill is a tour by Canadian Senators that kicks off the second week of April, duplicating over two years of consultations and a 20-stop tour already undertaken for this legislation.
It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that Canada’s oil and gas industry does not want climate to be a major consideration when energy projects are reviewed. As a result, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is demanding that the Senate include regressive amendments to Bill C-69. Although Bill C-69 — which will fulfill the government’s platform commitment to take steps to fix Canada’s broken impact assessment process — is not perfect, it is a major improvement in how we will assess the health and environmental impacts of major projects. For the first time, a project’s impact on Canada’s climate change goals will be an important consideration.
CAPP is essentially demanding that Canada stick its head in the sand. The world is up against a hard deadline and we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fast. In fact, the bill should go further than it currently does to consider the cumulative impact of projects on reaching our national climate targets. Of course, no individual project will single-handedly blow through our climate goals — but taken together, they can. If the federal review process doesn’t take into account industry’s overall impact on the climate, when exactly is that supposed to happen?
Federal impact reviews are supposed to be Canada’s opportunity to see both the forest and the trees. The point of this bill is not, as some have asserted, to find a new way to get pipelines approved. Rather it is to consider the complex impacts and tradeoffs that many types of industrial projects present for the lives of Canadians and our natural environment. Climate is the most urgent of these factors.
Think about it another way: the Trans Mountain pipeline has been in the ground for more than 60 years. Shouldn’t industrial projects that will still be impacting the landscape, the neighbourhoods and the atmosphere more than half a century from now be rigorously considered from all angles before shovels go in the ground?
Yet, it appears that there is no level of oversight or public accountability that CAPP and its members will view as acceptable. Under the current federal climate plan, emissions from oil and gas are actually expected to rise, even while transportation, buildings and other sectors will have to cut emissions drastically. CAPP has made no secret of the fact that they want more and more growth with fewer and fewer environmental safeguards, including those that protect our climate.
That’s why CAPP has been lobbying non-stop against C-69, at one point averaging a meeting per workday just on this legislation.
CAPP is likely emboldened to take on Bill C-69 because they were so successful the last time environmental assessment legislation was discussed in Ottawa. In 2012, the previous federal government, with no public consultation, gutted the environmental review process and replaced it with legislation that often took language word for word from industry submissions.
The oil & gas industry (CAPP) has been lobbying non-stop against environmental assessment bill C-69, at one point averaging a meeting per workday just on this legislation," writes @CanadaGray
The result was an assessment regime that didn’t consider impacts on health or the climate, excluded much of the public and tried to fast track approvals. As a result these “improved laws” have led to legal gridlock and a divisive public conversation that is stuck on pipelines at a time when we urgently need to be discussing climate solutions and energy transition.
Fortunately, Canadians did not like that the oil industry and the previous federal government tried to pull a fast one on their communities and nature, and the current government was elected with a mandate to fix Canada’s broken environmental protections. Judging by a recent Abacus poll, most Canadians who are aware of C-69 support it, showing the public is unlikely to be snowed this time either.
Canadians are smart enough to know we are all directly impacted by the cumulative effects of industrial projects on our health, lands and waters and will not tolerate being ignored or run over in the race to get projects approved.
For more than two years, thousands of Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, scientists and resource companies, have worked hard to help shape new laws. The House of Commons has passed the bill and now we are waiting on its review by a Senate that is stalling and threatening to kill, or severely gut the bill, at the behest of the oil industry.
Bill C-69 gives us an opportunity to get serious about the global fight against climate change by making it part of how we build Canada’s energy projects and infrastructure.
Now we just have to see it through.
Tim Gray is the Executive Director of Environmental Defence