On March 3rd the National Energy Board application period for the Energy East pipeline review ends. By then hundreds of people from all across Canada will have applied to the NEB review demanding to speak about the massive climate impacts of Energy East, equal to adding 7 million cars to Canada’s roads.
The NEB is the last review process and last regulatory body in Canada that could mandate climate reviews on tar sands pipelines, a necessity if Canada is going to get serious about tackling climate change. Unfortunately, NEB chair Peter Watson has so far refused to include climate change in the Energy East review claiming that despite the Board’s responsibility to review the cumulative environmental impacts of pipeline projects, climate change doesn’t rate.
Here are five reasons why Watson is wrong and why the NEB needs to review Energy East on climate.
The NEB needs to rebuild public trust
Earlier this year a former Suncor board member and lifetime energy executive called the NEB a “farce” and stated that “this Board [is] a truly industry captured regulator”. This was just the latest piece of a story that has seen faith in the NEB fall so low that last October the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association presented polling at an industry conference that showed that only 3 in 10 Canadians still believed in the process. In BC support for the NEB process has fallen so far that the provincial NDP are calling for the province to abandon the Board all together.
The NEB knows that the public has loss faith, Watson himself has commented on the challenges facing the board, even setting off on a cross country tour trying to drum up support for the NEB and pledging to open regional offices in Montreal and Vancouver to better interact with communities. The problem though, is that the NEB’s refusal to listen to climate concerns is at the core of why people have little to no faith in the review process. The inability to bring climate concerns forward at the NEB was the spark for many to risk arrest on Burnaby Mountain late last year and led over 100,000 people to demand a climate review of Energy East – the largest petition ever delivered to the NEB. If the NEB truly wants to rebuild the public trust, they need to start by including climate change in the review of Energy East.
It makes economic sense
According to their existing list of issues the NEB is responsible to review pipelines on the “economic feasibility of the Project”. With the collapsed price of oil and the threat of the carbon bubble become more and more real with each passing week, even earning a study from the Bank of England, the economic feasibility for pipeline projects like Energy East may actually hinge on considering the climate impacts of the project.
Andrew Leach, the Enbridge Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Calgary, puts it this way:
“When it comes to the question of demand for the pipeline, there’s an important climate change risk, which the NEB appears to be ignoring. Will the pipeline still be needed if Canada acts to meet its domestic commitments on climate change or if the world takes significant action on climate change, with or without Canadian participation?”
If the NEB is truly interested in making a determination as to whether a pipeline is in the national interest, whether or not there is an economic future for that pipeline or for the oil that is supposed to go in it seems like a good place to start.
The precedent for climate reviews has been set
In 2011, then Environment Minister Peter Kent made a proud announcement that Canada was pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning our previous climate targets with the goal of harmonizing our climate plans with the United States. Fast forward to today and US President Barack Obama seems poised to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, largely because the pipeline would have a significant impact on climate emissions. Obama has the information to make this decision because the Environmental Protection Agency performed a climate review of the Keystone XL pipeline and found that “Until ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of oil sands are more successful and widespread, the Final SEIS makes clear that, compared to reference crudes, development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions”. If Canada truly wants to align our climate change action plans with the US, we should start by mandating NEB reviews that include climate change.
The tar sands carbon math
A recent study in Nature found that in order to maintain a global climate target of 2 degrees maximum warming, Canada needs to keep the vast majority of tar sands in the ground. An earlier study by Marc Lee at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives estimated that to stay within Canada’s fair share of a global carbon budget at least 78% of Canada’s proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay underground – 89% if you include proven-plus-probable reserves.
In other words, the math doesn’t add up. If Canada is going to have a just, fair climate policy that respects our role in the rest of the world the first step is to know how much more carbon we can emit. Only once we know that can we can craft policy and make decisions on whether a project is truly in the national interest by determining if fits with building the pathway for a just transition to 100% clean energy – a transition that the world best scientists say we need to make as soon as possible.
Because they can
With over 100,000 messages demanding it and cl of all applicants to the Energy East review asking to speak on it, you’d think the easiest thing for the NEB to do is just to add climate change to the list of issues, as they already have with marine shipping concerns around Energy East. Even the NEB used to think it was in 2010 when a spokesperson to the Globe and Mail that “just because [climate change] wasn’t listed in the terms of reference doesn’t mean it’s not an issue that the hearing can consider” .
In other words, the only real barriers to a climate review of Energy East are political. The NEB is appointed by the government, and Stephen Harper has stacked the NEB with hand picked allies of the fossil fuel industry. Let’s be crystal clear, if the NEB refuses a climate review it’s not because they can’t do one, it’s because they don’t want to do one – and if that’s the case we have to ask the question, who benefits when pipelines don’t get a climate review?