ST. JOHN’S, NL — Canada’s premiers have announced a national energy strategy supporting both project development and the need for emission cuts, ending days of sometimes tense talks on how to balance the two at the annual premiers’ conference in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A communique released July 17 after provincial and territorial leaders met in St. John’s, NL, said the plan helps set energy priorities and “encourage the transition to a lower carbon economy.”
“It gives us a way forward,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis said as he closed the Council of the Federation gathering.
Environmental groups pushing for faster, steeper carbon cuts were quick to pounce. They criticized a non-binding strategy that’s short on specific targets and broad enough that leaders across the country – from carbon-taxing B.C. to oil-reliant Newfoundland and Labrador – could back it.
“It’s absurd that while Alberta is dealing with one of the largest spills in Canadian history that Canada’s premiers would try to help pave the way for more tar sands pipelines,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada in a statement.
“Not only would new pipelines bring spill risks to communities and watersheds across Canada, they would lock this country into a carbon-polluting future for decades to come.”
Erin Flanagan, an oil sands analyst with the Pembina Institute non-profit energy think tank, said premiers must get serious about climate change.
“We need to see real reductions in carbon pollution across the country. Each province and territory should begin by putting a meaningful price on carbon.”
Despite those criticisms, BC Premier Christy Clark and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard both said the strategy is a vast improvement from where it started three years ago.
Early drafts were “very light” on environmental emphasis, Couillard said. He also stressed that projects such as the proposed Energy East pipeline must clear environmental hurdles, including a review to be released in coming months.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall cut a solitary figure at times during this week’s meeting. He pushed other leaders to give greater emphasis to the economic importance of the fossil fuel sector.
Canadians should be both proud and grateful for lucrative reserves of oil and gas “which are not four-letter words,” he told the closing news conference.
Wall earlier this week took aim at Ontario and Quebec, arguing parts of the country increasingly shun oil and gas even as those provinces benefit from the equalization funds those industries help raise.
But Wall said a chapter of the strategy on moving oil across the country mentions energy self-sufficiency and adding value to what is exported. It helped win him over.
“Our country, notwithstanding the vast oil reserves that we have in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador … we import oil from other countries,” he said. “That just seems wrong to me. We ought to use our own oil and add value to it here and then export it to markets other than the United States. We’ve got one customer for this product right now.”
The strategy was announced as Nexen Energy apologized for a five-million litre pipeline spill of bitumen, produced water and sand southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said pipelines are still the safest way to transport oil and gas despite what she called an unfortunate incident.
“The strategy itself refers, of course, to the need to not only develop our energy resources responsibly and safely but to transport them responsibly and safely,” she added. “And we’re all committed to that objective.”
The plan also calls for policies that would increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases and advance new technology.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the premiers struck the right balance.
A strong economy and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive, she said. “In fact, they must be complementary.
“For me, that’s the foundational work of this document.”
The strategy has been on the premiers’ agenda since 2012.
Clark urged other provinces to follow BC’s lead, where carbon pricing was introduced seven years ago.
“We lead the country in economic growth now despite the fact that people said a carbon tax was going to kill it.”
© 2015 The Canadian Press