A Big Oil lobby group is using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover to ask the federal government to suspend dozens of environmental regulations, laws and policies. They also want to keep their lobby efforts secret.
Today, we learned that members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet were sent a memo from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), an organization that represents Big Oil producers in Alberta’s tar sands and across the country.
This is classic shock doctrine: Big Oil exploiting this crisis to advance its narrow interests that have nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with lining their pockets and entrenching their power. We must reject this disaster capitalism and demand a just recovery that addresses the pandemic, economic and climate crises.
The oil industry has seen its prices and profits plummet as a result of an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and crash further following the emergence of COVID-19. In Canada and around the world, oil prices have fallen well below record lows. Industry representatives are now scrambling to find ways to keep their corporate agendas alive and are secretly lobbying federal cabinet ministers for their support.
The Council of Canadians received a copy of CAPP’s leaked memo, which was sent to Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and seven other members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. It urges the government to suspend regulations that protect human and ecological health, delay or remove policies to address the climate crisis, and hide their lobbying activities by suspending lobby transparency rules.
These demands have nothing to do with the COVID crisis – they are CAPP’s long term lobbying goals
What does removing federal oversight of offshore oil exploration projects have to do with COVID-19? Absolutely nothing. We know that exploring for offshore oil can be as dangerous as extracting it and while we work towards to moratorium, we need robust regulation on all offshore activities.
CAPP also asked for in situ tar sands operations to be excluded from federal oversight under the Impact Assessment Act. These demands are not time bound – CAPP isn’t asking for a six month delay, they’re asking to permanently change the laws. Again, this has nothing to do with COVID-19.
These demands aren’t about workers’ safety, job security, or public health
As Environmental Defence has noted, “CAPP argues that COVID-19 makes on-site methane tests dangerous, but teams of two can go into oil and gas facilities and test compressors and other equipment for leaks, while work camps that number in the hundreds continue to build pipelines and work at oil and gas production sites.”
If the demands were about workers’ safety, job security or public health, CAPP would be focusing on a just transition, not doubling down on stalling climate action and trampling on Indigenous rights.
Public health experts in B.C. are calling for work camps to be shut down entirely. While the rest of the country is closely following the instructions of public health experts, why aren’t corporations?
Do no harm – but to whom?
CAPP calls for the federal government to use the “do no harm” principle, though in their eyes the only harm they’re worried about is damage to the bottom line. What CAPP is proposing would harm to people and the planet.
CAPP is calling for UNDRIP implementation to be delayed. In February, the oil industry saw the strength of direct action when an international movement, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en leadership, shuttered their work. They’re afraid of this leadership and the impact of direct action.
In the memo CAPP says, “To ensure alignment with the do no harm principle there will need to be fulsome understanding of how some key components of UNDRIP will work with economic recovery of Canada.” They say nothing of the harm being done to Indigenous communities through resource extraction.
As Environmental Defence notes, CAPP is calling for measures that will have additional harm. Continuing to operate oil and gas operations has direct health consequences for workers and surrounding populations, which are overwhelmingly Indigenous communities. "Research shows that those exposed to air pollutants are more vulnerable to COVID-19, and yet these measures will increase air pollution," the organization notes.
CAPP’s relentless lobby
CAPP has been lobbying the government relentlessly over the past month. In the memo, CAPP references two specific meetings between the COVID cabinet committee and CAPP members, as well as the creation of a COVID-19 Market Crisis Working Group. However, they don’t want the public to know about it. One of CAPP’s requests is a modification to the Lobbying Act that would exclude CAPP and its members from having to register their lobbying efforts, citing a strain on resources. If they have the time to lobby, then they have the time to be transparent about it.
This is a tacit admission from CAPP that it recognizes the public disagrees with its reckless priorities, something underscored by recent polling that shows 79% of Albertans want a just transition.
Current lobbying rules requires all federal government lobbyists to register and report their meetings with MPs. This record is then made public. The rules provide transparency on who has access to – and the ears – of elected politicians.
The oil industry is using this global health crisis to push its profit-driven agenda behind closed doors. There is no reason to suspend rules around lobbying, nor is there a reason to suspend laws and regulations that are in place to protect our land, water and air.
The federal government has taken direction from CAPP in the past and concerns are high that it will do this again. We’ve seen CAPP directly shape Canada’s environment and climate policy through Harper’s omnibus bills that slashed regulation and oversight. The revolving door between CAPP and the federal government has been going on for years – most recently, Jim Carr, in his role as finance minister, hired a former CAPP Vice President as his chief of staff. CAPP’s long list of asks is documented in Environmental Defence’s 2019 report. We know the devastation that comes with CAPP’s wish lists, and we need your help to push back against these most recent demands.
The bottoming out of fossil fuel prices has created a new reality for the oil industry, which was already in peril due to the global climate crisis. Scientists have said that in order to stop a global warming catastrophe, fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Now, more than ever, governments need to support energy industry workers’ transition to new forms of work in areas that will help build Canada’s economy and will provide a sustainable future for us all.
The Council of Canadians, together with social justice allies, sent a letter calling on the federal government to use the principles of a just transition to put in place a program with measures to protect workers now, and to intentionally ramp down oil and gas production in the coming years. Instead of a bailout and special measures for Big Oil, the government needs to prioritize transforming the economy in a way that supports and benefits workers and communities.