Les Leyne: NDP takes firm position against LNG

Les Leyne mugshot genericThe New Democratic Party caucus has raised objections in the past to the bellwether liquefied natural gas proposal, signed petitions against it and spoken out in opposition to it.

Last month, it made its stance clear, filing a definitive position against the Pacific Northwest LNG project with federal environmental authorities.

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The position against that specific plant, which only came to light Monday, isn’t a new development. But the key reason the Opposition is citing — greenhouse gas emissions — is an issue with all the big LNG plants that have been under consideration in B.C. for the past several years. And if the NDP applies its Pacific Northwest LNG reasoning to all other proposals, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the party would support LNG in general.

The NDP has been criticizing the B.C. Liberals’ handling of the mega-billion-dollar projects and voting against legislation the government has introduced along the way. But it has also been cautiously keeping an option open to support the concept of developing the industry.

It looks as if that option is fading. With development behind schedule and various projects in holding patterns due to slumping prices, the NDP is preparing to be outright opposed to the LNG dream.

NDP Leader John Horgan and environment critic George Heyman wrote to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency last month about the proposal near Port Edward, south of Prince Rupert.

They stressed one point — “the significant rise in GHG emissions.” The agency has already concluded the one plant would hike B.C.’s emissions by 8.5 per cent all by itself. Horgan and Heyman said the proposal therefore fails to meet environmental standards “through unacceptable high and inadequately regulated GHG emissions.

“Until and unless those deficiencies are addressed, we urge you to withhold final recommendation for approval.”

The other deficiency they cited was the lack of concern for First Nations objections to the salmon-habitat issues. That has been highlighted for the past year, although local politics has been shifting, and the closest band’s position on the plant is in a state of flux.

If GHG emissions are one of the Opposition’s key concerns, they are a feature of all the major plants under consideration. They all rely on natural gas for the huge amount of power needed to supercool the gas down to its much-compressed liquid state for shipment.

When B.C. signed off last year on two such plants, the “significant adverse effects” of emissions were acknowledged as a fact of life, even with the stringent limits put in place. But the benefits were considered so big, the pluses outweighed the negatives.

The other plant that got provincial approval was LNG Canada’s proposal near Kitimat. It’s comparable in size, and its total GHG emissions are estimated to add 6.6 per cent to the annual provincial total output. Most of the major proposals in play would be in the same ballpark. If the NDP is against one based on the emissions, it’s hard to see how it could support any.

B.C. Liberals are relying on the fact the increase would be offset by emission reductions in Asia, where the gas would replace dirtier fuels.

And they were quick to seize on the NDP stance this week, portraying it as a solid “No” to jobs.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the Opposition has been insisting it’s supportive of the industry in general, but the letter says otherwise.

Heyman said the emissions and salmon-habitat concerns are significant, and the project shouldn’t be approved until they’re addressed.

There are steps that could lower emissions enough to win support, he said, but until they’re taken “we should not be approving projects that will raise those emissions.”

He said the NDP wants clear standards for reducing emissions.

“We have yet to see that; we need to see that before any British Columbian can understand how we’re going to meet climate goals without controlling the emissions in this industry.”

It’s a gamble to reject the chance at thousands of jobs based on abstract emission concerns. But it’s an easier bet to make if the NDP considers the whole thing to have been a mirage.

But B.C. Liberals still believe in it, and will be calling their opponents “the forces of no” every chance they get.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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