Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation

Last night, The Globe and Mail reported, "The government indicated on Friday that it will give notice of legislation on Monday [on a new bill that] will cover major projects that are designated to be within federal jurisdiction, including interprovincial pipelines, mines and offshore oil-and-gas drilling."

The CBC further explains, "Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is to table a bill in coming days to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, as well as amend the Navigation Protection Act. Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is to table a second bill to amend the Fisheries Act."

That article highlights, "Instead of three separate bodies [the National Energy Board, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] reviewing a designated project like a pipeline, the government is expected to create a single agency to assess the environmental and economic impacts of a project along with social and health impacts. That single agency would also co-ordinate consultations with Indigenous people."

Project reviews
The article notes, "In January 2016, the government ... appointed an expert panel to examine [reviews] and then in June 2017 published a discussion paper. Hints to what will be in the legislation lie in that discussion paper. ...'It's a really good document in terms of what is being considered', said one source. ...The discussion paper recommends that for 'major energy transmission, nuclear and offshore oil and gas projects', the new agency and the agencies that will regulate projects over their life cycles would conduct joint impact assessments as part of a 'single, integrated review process'."

Water protections
And the article says, "The discussion paper also called for the government to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards in the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act. In 2012, omnibus legislation introduced under Stephen Harper's government concentrated the application of the Navigation Protection Act to 162 waterways, removing the protection from many others."

Cautions
1- Reuters reports, "The legislation could take effect by July 2019, one of the sources said. It would have little immediate impact as projects already under review will continue under the existing system." That means this review process would not apply to the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

2- Just days before this new legislation is to be tabled in the House of Commons, the federal government approved BP (British Petroleum) to drill up to seven oil and gas exploration wells off the coast of Nova Scotia stating the drilling project “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects”.

3- The Globe and Mail reports, "Ottawa has committed to bring its laws and practices in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, including their right to exercise free, prior and informed consent over projects that would affect their territory. [Chris Bloomer, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said on Sunday] companies want to see how Ottawa defines that right to consent to ensure it does not amount to a veto over a project that would otherwise be deemed to be in the national interest." To date the government has not committed to consent, only consultation.

4- While the federal government says it is committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there appears to be no similar promise to implementing the United Nations General Assembly recognized human right to water which includes the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill. The obligation to protect means, for example, that drinking water must be protected from being polluted by oil spills. When the government approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which runs across the aquifer used by the C’eletkwmx/Coldwater people in British Columbia, it knowingly violated its obligation to protect their drinking water.

5- The Globe and Mail also reports, "Environmental groups say the law should do more than merely require companies to mitigate adverse impact on the environment, but should put the concept of sustainability at the heart of the process. The government should undertake regional assessments and analyze the cumulative effect of development on the ecosystem and local people, a coalition of environment groups urged recently. And it should ensure all activities are consistent with Canada's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." While the government has rhetorically committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it has not done so in practice.

6- In June 2017, Transport Canada accepted the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities regarding the Navigation Protection Act (formerly the Navigable Waters Protection Act). Rather than listing all lakes and rivers, the Committee recommended, "That the government maintain the Schedule [of 162 waterways] but rapidly improve the process of adding waterways to the Schedule by making it easily accessible, easy to use and transparent and that a public awareness campaign be put in place to inform stakeholders of the process." This is insufficient and underwhelming compared to the Liberal election campaign promise to “restore lost protections and incorporate more modern safeguards.”

7- While The Globe and Mail reports a source saying a June 2017 discussion paper is "a really good document in terms of what is being considered" and introduced as legislation this week, Green Party leader Elizabeth May commenting on the government's response to that paper last summer stated, “Now we’re looking at mild tweaking as opposed to the massive repair of our gutted environmental laws.”

The Council of Canadians, along with our South Niagara, Kent County and NWT chapters, made submissions on the 'environmental and regulatory reviews' consultation that is said to inform the legislation expected this week.

Further reading
Council of Canadians challenges National Energy Board modernization panel (February 2017)
NEB overhaul proposal panders to corporate interests, leaves out public interest (May 2017)