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Liberals to roll out legislative package with reforms to National Energy Board in early 2018: Carr

By Marco Vigliotti      

'Our government is committed to restoring the confidence of Canadians in how major resource projects are evaluated,' says the natural resources minister.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the Liberal government will move forward with a legislative package responding to, among other things, the findings of its expert panel on the National Energy Board in early 2018. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the Liberal government will introduce its long-awaited legislative package overhauling the country’s environmental assessment and regulatory processes—including modernizing the pipeline regulator—in the new year.

The announcement comes months after the release of a report from the expert panel struck by the Liberals to examine the National Energy Board (NEB) that called for the regulatory body to be scrapped and replaced with two separate agencies, and moved from Calgary to Ottawa. In June, the government also released a discussion paper on the broader regulatory review proposals for public input.

“The paper outlined potential reforms to rebuild trust and modernize Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes. Indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public at large, provided feedback on the paper during the summer,” Mr. Carr (Winnipeg South, Man.) said in an email interview with The Hill Times.

“Their feedback is helping guide potential legislative, regulatory, policy changes, which will result in a legislative package in early 2018.”

The NEB is a quasi-judicial tribunal body that regulates fossil fuel pipelines and power lines crossing internal or international borders, imports and exports of natural gas, exports of oil and electricity, and oil and gas extraction. The arm’s- length body is responsible for making recommendations to the federal minister of natural resources.

The Trudeau government struck the panel to review the NEB last year after the Liberals promised in the lead-up to the 2015 vote to reform the country’s pipeline approval process, saying it needed to be be modernized to better reflect environmental expertise, regional considerations, and Indigenous knowledge. In opposition, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) routinely criticized the former Conservative government for undermining the credibility of the regulatory agency by appointing members with ties to the oil and gas industry, and imposing new rules.

As part of the expert panel’s work, members travelled to 10 cities, listened to some 200 people, and received another 200 written submissions online, according to Natural Resources Canada.

In its report released last spring, the panel called for the establishment of the Canadian Energy Information Agency and Canadian Energy Transmission Commission to replace the NEB, saying the proposed CEIA would centralize information about energy in hopes of better aligning the data with environmental policy. Meanwhile, the CETC, as envisioned by the panel, would still be responsible for conducting environmental assessments of energy transmission projects, though in conjunction with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The panel justified its call for relocation by saying it heard “intense and near-unanimous criticism” of current rules requiring NEB board members to reside in the Calgary area, with some participants in the consultation process arguing placing the regulatory board in what is commonly viewed as the capital of Canada’s energy sector undermined its independence. The panel also wrote that Canada’s energy transmission infrastructure regulator “needs a stronger connection to the seat of the federal government.”

The fate of the NEB was one of several pressing topics addressed by Mr. Carr in a recent wide-ranging interview with The Hill Times, with the minister also touching upon the ongoing dispute with the U.S. over softwood lumber, energy efficiency, promoting clean technologies in extractive sectors, and NAFTA.

This email Q&A interview has been edited for style and length.

What can you tell us about the state of softwood lumber negotiations with the United States? Are we seeing progress?

“The U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to impose punitive anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber producers is unfair, unwarranted and deeply troubling. We recently challenged the countervailing duties under the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) Chapter 19, and we have begun litigation via the World Trade Organization.‎

“As the government has said for some time, we will forcefully defend Canada’s softwood lumber industry and workers. We will continue to work closely with our provincial partners to get the best outcome for Canada.”

How is Ottawa helping natural resource sectors like forestry, mining, energy, fisheries, and even agriculture adopt clean technologies?

“Advancing clean technologies in Canada’s natural resource sectors is a priority for our government. Adopting these technologies can reduce environmental impacts, enhance competitiveness and create good, middle-class jobs. In Budget 2017, we invested $200-million in clean technology research, development and demonstration in natural resources, fisheries, oceans, agriculture and agri-food.

“In November 2017, we launched the Clean Growth in the Natural Resource Sectors Program (CGP), which will support the development and adoption of clean technologies in Canada’s forest, mining and energy sectors. The CGP will focus on five key areas:

• reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) and air emissions;

• minimizing landscape disturbances and improving waste management;

• producing and using advanced materials and bioproducts; and

• ensuring efficient energy use and reducing water use and impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

“As only projects with provincial/territorial support are eligible for funding under the CGP, the program provides a unique opportunity to strengthen federal-provincial/territorial collaboration. In addition, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has a number of ongoing programs that support innovation, including Investments in Forest Industry Transformation. This program supports the transformation of Canada’s forest industry by accelerating the commercialization of highly innovative, first-in-kind technologies.

“These projects are typically world-firsts or Canadian-firsts and involve significant investments from the company and other funding partners. The government of Canada remains committed to helping the forest industry transform by using wood in new ways, selling to new markets, and positioning itself to be a major player in the low carbon and bio-economy. Market diversification for wood products will create Canadian jobs and benefit the communities that rely on the forest industry.

“NRCan also funds the Green Mining Initiative, which develops clean technologies to reduce the environmental impacts of mining and improve competitiveness—including innovations in energy efficiency and water management. This initiative brings stakeholders together to develop solutions to mining’s greatest challenges and to create a cleaner, more productive industry in a world that increasingly values sustainable practices.”

Following up, how is the government addressing these largely carbon intensive sectors in national efforts to lower emissions?

“At NRCan, we are focusing on programs that improve environmental performance and enhance competitiveness, ensuring that Canada’s natural resource operations remain a source of clean jobs and growth. Canadian resource companies have made significant strides to improve their sustainability and competitiveness, and to reduce their cumulative environmental footprint.

“That said, Canada’s commitments under COP21 mean that we must continue to find greener ways to develop our resources. Government plays a key role in enabling innovation by challenging natural resource companies to seek out new opportunities that ensure long-term productivity while also integrating sustainable practices and low carbon processes. NRCan is helping to lead those efforts through a number of initiatives. In 2016, the government announced $50-million to develop cleaner oil and gas technologies. We are also providing $53-million per year through the Energy Innovation Program to support the oil and gas sector reduce methane emissions while remaining competitive.

“Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, a precursor to the Energy Innovation Program, also provided funding to the mining sector to help reduce the use of diesel in remote mining locations by integrating wind and storage systems. Future funding under the Energy Innovation Program will build on these early actions and further reduce emissions in Canada’s most carbon intensive sectors.”

What’s next in the government’s review of federal environmental assessment processes? Is the government going to accept the recommendations of the review panel? When can we expect to see action on this front?

“Our government is committed to restoring the confidence of Canadians in how major resource projects are evaluated. To that end, we have launched a comprehensive review of the environmental assessment process, including the National Energy Board.

“On May 15, 2017, the expert panel on the modernization of the National Energy Board (NEB) completed its assessment report, which included recommendations on how best to modernize the NEB. The recommendations from the expert panel, as well as reports from the other three regulatory reviews under the ministries of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and Transport, informed a discussion paper, launched on June 29, 2017.

“The paper outlined potential reforms to rebuild trust and modernize Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes. Indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public at large, provided feedback on the paper during the summer. Their feedback is helping guide potential legislative, regulatory, policy changes, which will result in a legislative package in early 2018.”

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

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