Nfld. & Labrador

Noia makes last-ditch plea against Bill C-69 offshore environmental protections

Federal Liberals have sent Bill C-69, to overhaul environmental assessment legislation, back to the Senate with sweeping changes it recommended, but this province wants more changes before it's passed into law.

CEO Charlene Johnson went to Ottawa on Monday to present oil and gas industry's case

Noia CEO Charlene Johnson speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday before Bill C-69 returns to the Senate to potentially be passed into federal law. (CBC)

As Bill C-69 returns to the Senate with sweeping amendments, the association that represents Newfoundland and Labrador's oil and gas sector is in Ottawa to plead for changes it says will protect this province's industry. 

"Canada is blessed with natural resources; we need the ability to further develop them. So I'm here today to again show our opposition to some of the things in Bill C-69," said Charlene Johnson, CEO of Noia, the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry Association, from Ottawa on Monday morning.

Before the organization's annual conference in St. John's this week, she participated in a press conference organized by the group Save Canadian Jobs to reiterate concerns about Bill C-69 before it passes into law — should the Senate accept the latest incarnation of the bill, which would overhaul environmental assessment legislation. 

"The main concern for us in Newfoundland and Labrador is the issue of joint management. Joint management was eroded in the past, and of course the Atlantic Accord of 1985 says that the federal and the provincial government would have equal say in managing our offshore," Johnson said, and that includes environmental concerns. 

Noia, province share concerns

Her main issues with the legislation, which would give Ottawa more power in environmental assessments of energy projects, are shared by the provincial government: joint management, and a place for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, on the new regulatory agency under Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Agency. 

"[This bill] doesn't recognize the local knowledge of the regulator, who has 30 years of doing these environmental assessments. They're adjacent to the resource" and equally represent the federal and provincial governments, said Johnson. 

She said Bill C-69 is about centralizing power in Ottawa, a criticism the Senate seemingly echoed as some of the changes the federal Liberals accepted include giving more power to the provinces and limiting those of the environment minister. 

This province would like a blanket assessment for exploration wells, allowing companies to operate more quickly within a certain area

"We see environmental exploration wells in Norway being done in 79 days, Australia in 144 days. And that takes approximately 905 days here in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Johnson, making this province less competitive at a time of "great momentum." 

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been pushing for tougher rules on environmental assessment of energy projects in Bill C-69. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Catherine McKenna, the federal minister of environment and climate change, has argued some requested amendments are simply from oil lobbyists. When asked about that, Johnson said the federal government "needs to recognize that there has to be a balance, and right now we're seeing a balance tipped far the other way."

"I always say, protection first, progress, but not added process," Johnson told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

"Just because environmental assessments take longer and they're lengthier, it doesn't mean that there's added protections for the environment, so we need to keep that balance in mind. And look to the facts and the science of this and hear from both sides," she said. 

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