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CEAA Gave Petronas a Pass Without Weighing Cumulative Climate Impact

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) endorsed Malaysia state oil company Petronas’ proposal to build a $36-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal on British Columbia’s coast without ever considering its lifetime greenhouse gas emissions, affidavits filed in Federal Court in Vancouver assert.

SkeenaWild Conservation Trust filed the affidavits after receiving a cache of 17,000 documents from the federal government as part of its suit seeking a judicial review of the Liberal government’s September, 2016 decision to approve the project, DeSmog.ca reports.

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The failure is significant, SkeenaWild argues. Depending on how you calculate Canada’s national carbon budget, emissions projected over the anticipated 30-year life of Petronas’ planned Pacific NorthWest LNG compression and shipping facility “could eat up 2.5 to 11% of the country’s total all-time climate pollution allowance,” Simon Fraser University climate scientist Kirsten Zickfeld asserts in one of the affidavits.

In the other affidavit, Pembina Institute policy analyst Maximilian Kniewasser, swears that the federal government was aware of design options to reduce the proposed plant’s emissions, but elected not to require them.

It’s unclear what weight the affidavits—which are new documents not included in the government’s disclosures—will have. Lawyers for the federal government and Pacific NorthWest “asked the court to strike the affidavits from consideration as evidence on the basis that they are ‘inadmissible…extrinsic evidence,’” DeSmog.ca reports.

However the court rules, the documents already disclosed in the case make clear how secretive and closed the CEAA’s assessment process for the Pacific Northwest plant was, charges SkeenaWild executive director Greg Knox.

“Under what is known as a standard environmental assessment process,” DeSmog.ca writes, “the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducted a review of Pacific NorthWest LNG with no public hearing, no cross-examination, and no full public disclosure of documents submitted during the duration of the review. About half of the documents that were used in the assessment process weren’t on the public record.”

As a result, public watchdog groups had no idea the federal cabinet was in the dark about the project’s cumulative climate impacts. “In the type of environmental assessment process we had for this project, none of that was made available to the public,” Knox said. “And it was never provided to the public until we requested it through the legal process.”

Although the project is still on the books, it remains unclear whether its Malaysian state sponsor will actually follow through with construction. Meanwhile, the federal government in April proposed dramatic changes to the role of the CEAA, intended to enhance public input and the role of independent scientific evidence.