Thursday, February 21, 2013

BC Navigable Waters Protections Gutted at Pipeline Operators' Request

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association used its clout with the sleazy government of Sideshow Steve Harper to modify the Navigable Waters Protection Act.   Greenpeace used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the truth.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association met with senior government officials in the fall of 2011, urging them not just to streamline environmental assessments, but also to bring in "new regulations under (the) Navigable Waters Protection Act," a CEPA slide presentation shows.

A copy of the Oct. 27 presentation made to then-deputy minister of trade Louis Levesque was obtained by Greenpeace Canada and shared with The Canadian Press.

With so many of the pipeline-related rules in flux, the CEPA board of directors decided to hold its fall strategy meeting in Ottawa, and meet with Levesque at the same time.
The first budget omnibus bill in June contained a replacement for the Environmental Assessment Act and also a provision to remove pipelines and power lines from provisions of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Predictably, reaction from environmentalists was negative, while business and the natural resource sector reacted positively to the changes.

But then the government surprised many close observers by going even further in a second omnibus bill, C-45. The Navigable Waters Protection Act was changed to the Navigation Protection Act, significantly reducing its scope over Canada's waters.

Transport Minister Denis Lebel has argued that the changes were in response to demands from municipalities, who found that the act was tying them up in red tape as they tried to build bridges and culverts, said spokesman Mike Winterburn.

But over the decades, the act — originally written in 1882 — had morphed into a central pillar of environmental legislation. Critics say the major changes in C-45 were never discussed in that context.
"I never really knew where this call for change came from," said NDP environment critic Megan Leslie.

At the time, the House of Commons environment committee was reviewing the Environmental Assessment Act, and the need for changes did not come up despite vibrant discussions about how to streamline approvals for resource development, she said.

"It was never in any documents, it was never an addendum to testimony or anything like that. And in some private meetings I've had with some industry reps, they too have expressed to me that they don't know why the Navigable Waters Act changes were made."

While Leslie said it's perfectly acceptable for industry groups to present the government with lists of policy recommendations, "what's not normal is that those changes are accepted holus-bolus, without any consultation."

The changes prompted another outcry late last year from environmentalists, who were then joined by First Nations across the country who took to the streets in protest.

Now, as U.S. President Barack Obama has signalled his intention to focus on climate change, the Harper cabinet is scrambling to tout its green credentials and prove the worthiness of Canadian pipelines — especially since Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is pending.

Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy co-ordinator, Keith Stewart, wonders if the government and the pipeline industry are having any regrets, given the push-back.

"I think it's a case of 'be careful what you ask for,'" he said.

Both the pipeline industry and the federal government want faster approvals as well as "social licence" in the form of positive public support. But achieving the first goal is limiting their ability to achieve the second goal, he added.

"The pipeline companies ultimately got the kind of changes they wanted to Environmental Assessment legislation and the Navigable Waters Protection Act in the 2012 budget omnibus bills. This may prove to be a pyrrhic victory, however."

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