Liberals' eco-commitment under scrutiny after opposing wind farm, supporting iron plant
Wind farm proponent says he's baffled by seemingly contradictory positions on environmental issues, projects
The New Brunswick Liberals are being accused of contradicting their position on climate change because they are supporting a high-emissions iron plant in Belledune while opposing a proposed wind-farm project near Caraquet.
Leader Kevin Vickers, who described himself last year as "more green than the Greens," agrees with Premier Blaine Higgs that the Maritime Iron plant's supposed impact on global emissions can offset the 2.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gases it will add to the province.
At the same time, Caraquet Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault has come out against a plan to develop a small wind farm in her riding that would sell electricity to the NB Power grid.
The head of the Fredericton company that has proposed the wind farm says those two stances fly in the face of the party's supposed commitment to acting on climate change.
"It's hard to say you're greener than the Greens if you now say you're looking for exemptions for a project like [Maritime Iron]," Amit Virmani, CEO of Naveco Power, said Tuesday.
"It's a total about-face from his comment about being greener than the Greens."
He said Thériault should be helping to facilitate a dialogue between the company and local residents in Anse-Bleue so the wind farm can move forward rather than speaking against it, as she did at a public meeting on Sunday.
"Instead of getting support from leaders of society in terms of helping bring down some of that heat and tension, it added more fuel to the fire," he said.
But Thériault said Tuesday that Naveco had not properly consulted the communities around Anse-Bleue and it was now probably too late to win support there.
"Although I want to support economic development and I want to support renewable energy, it's really hard in this case," she said. "The windmills are really close to the houses and they haven't been consulted from the start."
'A threat of incalculable consequences'
The previous Liberal government crafted the province's existing climate change plan, which the Progressive Conservative government has largely adopted. In 2016, then-premier Brian Gallant called climate change "the most important issue to face humankind in modern times."
Vickers made similar comments Tuesday, calling it "a threat of incalculable consequences. It's the greatest threat to humanity worldwide."
But he said New Brunswick can afford to say yes to Maritime Iron and its 200 permanent jobs because the plant's iron-processing technology will lead to lower emissions elsewhere in the world.
Green MLA Kevin Arseneau said the comments show that Liberals will always put the environment second when faced with a choice.
"Every time environment touches economy, economy wins for the Liberal party," he said. "There needs to be some kind of nuanced approach."
The argument for the plant
Maritime Iron argues the plant's Belledune location will reduce shipping distances for both raw iron ore and finished pig iron, lowering emissions from ocean-going freighters.
That and the company's new processing technology will contribute to global emissions reductions even while increasing emissions in New Brunswick, the company says.
The existing federal climate plan doesn't allow provinces to get credit for emissions created outside their boundaries, and no international credit-trading regime exists.
Maritime Iron says in its environmental impact assessment filing the net increase of 2.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions "will make it difficult for New Brunswick to achieve its current aspirational climate change goal" for 2020.
The province's legislated emissions goal for this year is 14.8 million tonnes, and for 2030 it's 10.7 million tonnes. It also has a second, less stringent 2030 goal, 14.1 million tonnes, tied to Canada's Paris climate plan objectives.
New Brunswick's emissions in 2017 were 14.3 million tonnes, below the legislated 2020 target and close to the 2030 Paris target.
The legislated targets, which are not binding, were raised Tuesday during the first-ever meeting at the legislature of an all-party committee on climate change.
Kelli Simmonds, the deputy minister in the Department of Environment and Local Government, said the fact the numbers are in legislation and were supported by all parties in the legislature at the time "shows the importance of the targets to the province."
Liberal MLA Cathy Rogers responded, "We all want to for sure reiterate our commitment to these targets and not slip in those."
Vickers said he's hopeful an international conference this fall will agree to rules that would allow emissions reductions in China to be applied against emissions from a plant in Canada such as Maritime Iron. Negotiations on that issue failed to reach a deal last fall.
Even if the plant caused New Brunswick to miss its own targets, "what the goal overall is is to reduce carbon emissions worldwide," he said. "We all have a role to play in that."
Wind project still alive
Virmani said the Anse-Bleue wind farm proposal is still alive, despite the City of Bathurst pulling out last year.
Under provincial policy, NB Power can buy renewable energy from small local projects if a municipality, non-profit organization or First Nations is a partner. Virmani said there are plans to have a local co-operative to step in to play that role.
He acknowledged there were concerns in the nearby communities but said politicians should be helping find ways to address them rather than coming out against the project.
Thériault and Arseneau agreed the lack of zoning and land-use planning regimes in the unincorporated area around the wind farm site is one reason residents felt frustrated about a lack of input.
"We need a better way of doing those new projects and consulting the population," Thériault said.