Edmonton

Energy assessment bill conflicts with purchase of pipeline, Alberta premier says

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says it makes no sense for Ottawa to have spent $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline while it is pushing legislation she says will prevent most future energy projects from being built.

Bill C-69 needs major amendments, Rachel Notley tells senators

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says swapping one broken regulator system for another makes no sense. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says it makes no sense for Ottawa to have spent $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline while it pushes legislation she says will deter investors from future energy projects.

Notley was in Ottawa Thursday giving the Senate her take on Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, which overhauls the way energy projects are assessed for their effects on the environment and their contributions to the social and economic well-being of the country.

When Environment Minister Catherine McKenna introduced the legislation a year ago, she said it was designed to attract new investment by giving the industry certainty about the criteria by which their proposed projects would be assessed and set timelines for the reviews.

Notley says the bill does the opposite.

"I will give [the Liberal government] credit for stepping in to buy Trans Mountain, but I also think there is a high level of
investor uncertainty that exists right now in the way in which it's written," she said. "We cannot allow that uncertainty to continue. You can't build trust by saying, 'Trust us.' You build trust by providing clarity."

The bill already had more than 130 amendments when it was debated in the House of Commons and the House environment committee. Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, told the committee last week the changes made in the House of Commons made the bill more complicated and that it now provides less clarity than before.

McMillan said the long, drawn-out legal challenges that have delayed the Trans Mountain pipeline will be the norm if the bill passes as is. In particular, there is too much discretion given to cabinet to interfere in a project's approval, he said.

McKenna's spokeswoman Sabrina Kim said in a statement Thursday the government is open to considering additional amendments. She blames the environmental assessment policies of the former Conservatives for the legal challenges delaying energy projects, and said the Liberals are keen to ensure the system protects the environment while still getting Canadian resources to market.

Among the amendments Notley wants to see are a hard two-year deadline for the entire assessment and review process. She noted the Trans Mountain expansion, a proposal to triple an existing pipeline's capacity between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C., was first brought forward in 2013 and in 2019 it is still in the middle of legal fights.

Ottawa bought the pipeline last August after Kinder Morgan Canada investors got skittish in the midst of several legal challenges. One of those was successful last summer, with the Federal Court of Appeal tearing up cabinet approval for the project on the grounds of insufficient environmental and Indigenous consultations.

The National Energy Board last week recommended the project be approved a second time after completing a new round of environmental reviews. The federal cabinet is waiting for the completion of more Indigenous consultations before deciding if it will follow through.

Notley also wants most new Alberta energy projects, including in-situ oilsands developments and petrochemical refineries, exempted from the bill because of existing provincial review processes and her government's climate-change policies.

She said the Alberta government has attracted $12 billion in investments for petrochemical and upgrading facilities. "We don't want to see that caught up in duplicative regimes that scare away investors we've worked so hard to attract," she said.

National unity issue

She said the main thing the federal legislation should affect is interprovincial pipelines.

Notley told the senators Alberta's struggle to get its oil to market has become an issue for national unity, noting Alberta was seeing such a collapse in its oil prices in the fall she forced oil companies to cut production.

"Over in the Maritimes they are importing Saudi oil. Here in Ontario you are importing American oil, both at world prices, and meanwhile in Alberta we are cutting production," she said. "I told [the Senate] very clearly this is not how you build a country."

The proposed Energy East pipeline that would have carried Alberta crude to eastern Canadian refineries was abandoned in 2017 with TransCanada citing market changes and uncertainty created by federal government policies.

Notley said Thursday if C-69 passes it will certainly discourage anyone from trying to get that pipeline back underway.

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