Canada’s embattled pipeline companies have laid down a marker on what a new environmental assessment process for fossil infrastructure like theirs could look like. And at first glance, it suggests some possible common ground with the country’s climate and energy community.
The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association has only 12 members, but they “own 119,000 kilometres of oil and natural gas pipelines across Canada,” iPolitics reports. And that’s the industry body that is urging Ottawa to split the assessment of any future infrastructure into “a two-step regulatory approval process.”
Part one would be a new “national interest determination” that would occur before any specific project receives a narrower technical environmental assessment. This determination process would address whether a project was compatible in principle with broad national objectives on issues such as “climate change, the need for new infrastructure, regional or cumulative social and economic impacts, overarching Indigenous issues, and overall national energy policy,” according to CEPA’s late December submission to the federal panel reviewing the workings of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
As CEPA envisions it, that round would determine “‘if’ the project should proceed.” If the answer was yes, “a second review would look at the more local and specific environmental impacts of the project, or the ‘how’ of that project proceeding.”
“Public confidence in [environmental assessments] has become impaired in part because broad public policy issues have not been addressed at the political level and cannot be addressed satisfactorily through project reviews,” CEPA comments.
[Editors’ note: Bring it on—as long as all the facets of Canada’s national interest are brought into the play, not just a narrow set of strictly economic indicators, and as long as all energy options are included.
A process to develop a true national energy strategy—not just a national fossil fuel strategy—would weigh all sources of energy available to Canadians on an even footing, including the “negawatts” that can be saved through energy efficiency. It would rank the options, not only on cost—which increasingly favours efficiency and renewables—but on broader social value indicators like permanent local job creation and compatibility with existing local, regional, and Aboriginal values. It would also compare the different energy sources’ impact on Canada’s natural security and environmental services, and their contribution to foreseeable climate impacts. If that’s what they mean, CEPA’s right: Undertaking a truly balanced, strategic energy assessment would be a badly-needed national first.]
The previous Conservative government led by Stephen Harper enacted a series of amendments to Canada’s environmental assessment process. Among other changes, it sharply limited the scope of environmental assessments and mandated that they conclude in less time. It also removed fossil infrastructure projects entirely from the oversight of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, placing them instead in the hands of the National Energy Board, an agency with no previous experience in environmental assessment.
The expert panel considering CEPA’s and other submissions on the environmental assessment process is due to report to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna by March 31.