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B.C. Premier David Eby (right) shakes the hand of Hereditary Chief of the Haisla Nation Jake Duncan (left) as Hereditary Chief Basil Grant looks on after a press conference announcing that the Cedar LNG project has been given environmental approval in Vancouver, March 14.Rich Lam/The Canadian Press

British Columbia is testing the limits of its climate action plan with the approval of a second liquefied natural gas production facility to be built on the North Coast.

Cedar LNG, given the green light on Tuesday, will be the largest infrastructure project in Canada with majority Indigenous ownership, and promises to be one of the lowest-emitting facilities of its kind in the world.

To fit into the province’s CleanBC emissions reduction plan, the province has now promised to set a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions for the entire oil and gas sector, which will include LNG production.

Cedar, co-owned by the Haisla Nation and Pembina Pipeline Corp., plans to build a $3-billion floating export terminal in Kitimat, and wants to start shipping LNG to Asia in 2027. It will rely on the Coastal GasLink pipeline for its supply of natural gas. The pipeline is already being built from northeast B.C. to LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal, which is under construction in Kitimat.

“Today is about changing the course of history for my nation, and Indigenous peoples everywhere in history, where Indigenous people were left on the sidelines of economic development in their territories,” said Crystal Smith, the elected Chief of the Haisla Nation.

“We are making history here,” Premier David Eby said, pointing to the decision as an example of his government’s commitment to work within the province’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples legislation. “The future lies in a rights-based partnership approach to decisions respecting land, water and resource stewardship.”

Only last October, Mr. Eby said that B.C. “cannot continue to expand fossil-fuel infrastructure and hit our climate goals.” On Tuesday, his Environment Minister, George Heyman, found otherwise: “We have concluded that this project can fit within B.C.’s climate targets and goals.”

The CleanBC plan is supposed to lower the province’s climate-changing emissions by 40 per cent from 2007 levels by the end of this decade. A government report released Nov. 23 shows that the province has made little progress to date.

LNG Canada will create four million tonnes of GHG emissions annually, while Cedar LNG, which will power its turbines with electricity instead of natural gas, will create about one million tonnes.

An hour after announcing the decision on Cedar LNG, the province followed up with an “energy action framework.” The new plan will lead to a regulatory emissions cap for the oil and gas industry to ensure B.C. meets its 2030 emissions reduction target for the sector.

As well, the action plan requires all proposed LNG facilities that are already in or entering the environmental assessment process to include a credible plan to be net zero for emissions by 2030. And, the Crown-owned utility, BC Hydro, has been directed to accelerate the electrification of the provincial economy by powering more homes, businesses and industries with renewable electricity.

Chris Severson-Baker, executive director of the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank, said the enormous amount of emissions associated with the production of LNG was incompatible with B.C.’s climate goals prior to Tuesday’s commitment to a cap on the oil and gas sector.

“The need to cut emissions from the oil and gas sector was a major gap in the B.C. climate plan, and the announcement today closes that gap,” he said.

Cedar LNG still requires federal approval and a final investment decision. The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office carried out the assessment on behalf of the federal government under a substitution agreement. This means the one assessment carried out by the EAO is used to support separate decisions by each level of government.

While the Haisla Nation has touted Cedar LNG as a tool of reconciliation, the reliance on the Coastal GasLink pipeline project comes with some friction. About 190 kilometres of the contentious pipeline route cross the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s traditional territory. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink say they have jurisdiction over that territory.

In addition, some of the Haisla’s First Nation neighbours have not yet signed on to the Cedar LNG project. The Lax Kw’alaams nation had requested a delay in the decision because it has not yet reached consent. The Haida Nation did not provide a formal submission to the environmental assessment process, but it expressed opposition to any increase in LNG shipping traffic through its territories. And other First Nations have raised concerns about the cumulative effects of increased marine shipping.

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