Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is demanding major changes to federal environmental assessment legislation, arguing the bill before the Senate would extend Ottawa’s reach into provincial jurisdiction and undermine energy industry competitiveness.
In a speech to the energy pipeline industry in Calgary on Tuesday, Ms. Notley said her government is pushing the federal Liberals to rapidly restart the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, and to retool its legislation, Bill C-69, which would establish how future resource projects will be reviewed.
“We need to stop the regulatory merry-go-round, not super-charge it,” she said. “We need to improve our competitive position, not make it harder to get things built. Bill C-69 in its current form stands to hurt that competitive position, so we’re going to keep fighting for changes.”
The Impact Assessment Act, which has passed in the House of Commons, sets tighter timelines for project reviews but also requires regulators to consider a host of social and environmental issues when deciding whether to recommend that cabinet approve a project, and gives review panels the discretion to take additional time for hearings.
The legislation has become another point of contention between the federal Liberal government and supporters of the oil and gas industry – especially those on the Prairies. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also facing condemnation from Conservatives over the government’s plan for a carbon tax, and the delays in getting crude oil pipelines built.
Conservative senators are gearing up for an effort to defeat the bill in the upper chamber. Ms. Notley said two of her cabinet members, Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, will travel to the nation’s capital to press for changes in the bill when it is sent to a Senate committee.
Ms. Notley said the legislation does not explicitly prevent regulators from considering greenhouse gas emissions related to the consumption of fuel shipped through pipelines, although no other types of project face such a test. She also argued the bill allows Ottawa to intrude on provincial jurisdiction in areas of resource management.
“Albertans manage energy; that is an Albertan’s birthright,” she later told reporters. “And in no circumstances under this government are we going to see that right be undermined.”
The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association has said Bill C-69 would essentially prevent the construction of major pipelines in the country, a theme echoed by Conservative members of Parliament and some industry lobby groups. Other business groups, notably the Mining Association of Canada, have said the legislation is an improvement on the system put in place by the Conservative government in 2012.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce approved resolutions at its annual general meeting last weekend calling on the government to amend the legislation to provide more clarity and assurances that projects will not get bogged down in the review process.
A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the government will consider any amendments the Senate adopts, but added that the Conservatives under prime minister Stephen Harper “gutted” the environmental assessment process, causing Canadians to lose their trust in it.
“Their system failed, it failed Canadians, and it failed resource development,” Ms. McKenna’s press secretary, Caroline Thériault, said in an e-mail. "This is why we are putting in place better rules.
“With our better rules in place, we will have faster timelines, greater transparency, and decisions that ensure our resource development is done in a manner that protects the environment, properly consults with Indigenous peoples, and creates good middle class jobs and economic growth.”
Environmental groups are unhappy with the legislation because, among other issues, it would not require the government to reject projects that are deemed to fail a “sustainability test,” said Anna Johnston, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law. Ms. Johnston said the government has left many contentious issues to be addressed in regulations that have not yet been released, leaving both sides to focus on their worst-case scenarios.
In her speech on Tuesday, Ms. Notley urged the Liberal government ensure it meets tight deadlines for reapproving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The project was halted a month ago when the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Ottawa’s approval. The court found the National Energy Board failed to properly assess the impact of increased tanker traffic in the waters off British Columbia, and the government’s consultations with First Nations were inadequate.
Last week, the federal government referred the matter back to the National Energy Board and gave it 22 weeks to finish its work. The government said it will lay out at a later date how it will re-engage with First Nations along the route.