B.C. New Democrats raise serious environmental concerns about Site C Dam and Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion

George Heyman says the public expects “some form of science-based neutral advice” on costly megaprojects

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      When George Heyman won the NDP nomination in Vancouver-Fairview before the 2013 B.C. election, it was seen as a victory for the party’s environmental wing.

      In his previous jobs as executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, he frequently stood up for better forest practices and the protection of wilderness areas.

      But his environmental advocacy has rubbed some the wrong way. In 2013, Heyman was personally criticized, albeit with his name misspelled, in a pre-election Globe and Mail editorial entitled “Why the NDP are too risky a choice for British Columbians”.

      As the NDP critic for the environment, green economy, and technology, Heyman argues that there’s far greater risk to the economy and the environment with the B.C. Liberals’ approach to two megaprojects: the $8.8-billion Site C Dam and the $6.8-billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

      “Traditionally, people have said we have to find a balance in the choice between the environment and the economy,” he said in a recent interview in the Georgia Straight office. “But the reality is good economic-development plans rest on good environmental practices.”

      So why was technology included in his critic’s portfolio?

      Heyman responded that much of the technology sector is focused on finding solutions. They can come in utilizing resources efficiently to make products to create jobs, and also in technological responses to threats to water quality or the climate.

      So when the NDP raises concerns about a project for environmental reasons—such as the Site C Dam or the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline—Heyman said that it’s important to put forward alternatives that can build the economy and create jobs.

      “In the case of Site C, our PowerBC proposal focuses on a provincewide energy-conservation program, starting with public buildings, moving on to commercial and residential, and talking about taking advantage of rapidly improving renewable-energy technologies in wind and solar—that also have very steeply dropping prices,” he said.

      The Site C Dam is the third major B.C. energy project to be built along the Peace River, after the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam.

      According to B.C. Hydro, it will be completed in 2024, providing enough electricity for 450,000 homes each year.

      NDP worries about cost of Site C power

      Heyman noted that the Joint Review Panel, which evaluated the project, concluded that Site C would lose $200 million per year for at least the first four years of operation. And that’s if the $8.8-billion cost estimate is accurate.

      “People are saying that Site C may come in anywhere from $3 billion to $4 billion higher than the $9-billion price tag, which is already a hike from when it was first approved,” he declared. “We can do better than that for taxpayers. We can do better than that for Hydro ratepayers. And we can do better than that to create long-lasting, good-paying jobs in every community around British Columbia over the next one to two decades.”

      Heyman and other New Democrats have demanded that the B.C. Liberal government subject the project to an independent review by the provincial energy regulator, the B.C. Utilities Commission.

      Opposition MLAs say this is necessary to determine if other forms of renewable energy are more cost-efficient and create greater employment.

      “We are seeing prices drop in solar and wind [power],” Heyman stated. “We’re seeing technologies grow more efficient. There’s a great possibility for geothermal energy in British Columbia. That’s never been adequately reviewed by B.C. Hydro.”

      The Site C Dam will create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir in the Peace River Valley, flooding prime agricultural land to generate power for 450,000 homes.

      Heyman says science-based advice should drive decision

      B.C. Hydro has pointed out on its website that “more than $100 million in procurement opportunities has been committed to Aboriginal companies” in such areas as clearing, site preparation, roads, bridges, grass-seed supply, wetland mitigation, and environmental monitoring.

      Meanwhile, the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations have filed legal challenges in the Federal Court of Appeal and the B.C. Court of Appeal against the federal and provincial governments’ environmental approvals.

      Heyman stopped short of saying that his party will cancel the Site C Dam if it forms the government after the May 9, 2017, provincial election.

      “I think British Columbians would expect us to do due diligence and not substitute one political decision for another,” he said. “I think in the case of energy policy and environmental concerns, generally, the public expects some form of science-based neutral advice to government that’s transparent and publicly available so decisions that are made can be evaluated. And we will provide that.”

      He also maintained that Premier Christy Clark has said that she wants construction on the dam to go “past the point of no return” before the election.

      “She may well have planted some poison pills,” he acknowledged. “But we made an absolute commitment to put that project in its current form in May to the B.C. Utilities Commission. It would need a robust terms of reference and an expedited review—and compare Site C and the committed costs of Site C as they exist at that point with the lost economic opportunity through a more incremental distributed-energy-production system made up of renewables.”

      In addition, Heyman said the review should also consider the costs of the loss of prime agricultural land from the flooding of parts of the Peace River Valley, as well as the impacts on First Nations.

      “If that review says that looking at all the factors, we should move in a different direction, [NDP Leader] John Horgan has said as recently as last week that that is advice we should follow,” Heyman emphasized. “But he can’t commit until he sees the advice.”

      NDP Leader John Horgan (left) is unequivocal in his opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project, according to NDP environment critic George Heyman.

      John Horgan remains opposed to Kinder Morgan project

      As for the Kinder Morgan project, Heyman questioned the premier's commitment to protect the B.C. coast after her government chose not to conduct a provincial environmental assessment.

      The Trudeau government recently approved the pipeline expansion, which will triple bitumen shipments from Alberta to B.C. to 890,000 barrels per day and result in a sevenfold increase in oil tankers travelling through Burrard Inlet every year.

      "In June, they quiety had the Environmental Assessment Office sign a document that accepted the National Energy Board–Stephen Harper review as a substitute for B.C.'s own review," he said. "In other words, she could have done an environmental assessment based on her five conditions. She chose instead to accept a review that her government had criticized as 'closed and unwilling to provide answers or the cross-examination that British Columbians expected'."

      Heyman added that New Democrats are "committed to defend our coast along with British Columbians who care deeply about its future".

      "I work with John Horgan closely," the Vancouver-Fairview MLA said. "I talk to him on a regular basis. You know, John is a very smart person who has an open mind. When he saw the evidence, he became convinced in the case of both Site C and the Kinder Morgan tanker-expansion project that these were just bad for British Columbia.

      "John's position on Kinder Morgan has been absolutely clear," Heyman continued. "Anybody who has listened to him since Justin Trudeau announced approval would have heard him unequivocally give reasons why this is bad for British Columbia. He knows it's bad. He's committed to do everything in the power of an NDP government to stop this project."

      When asked how it could be halted, Heyman responded: "Well, we would have to get legal advice. First of all, there's a number of court cases going forward from First Nations. The courts will decide on those. But there are a variety of permitting and access issues that are in the control of the provincial government. They have to be used legitimately in order to avoid a constitutional confrontation with the federal government."