A controversial $36 billion liquefied natural gas project proposed for the northern coast of British Columbia just got a conditional green light from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government. If built, the shipping terminal near Prince Rupert and its associated pipeline will be one of the largest and most carbon-intensive resource projects in Canada's history.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr flew out to Richmond, BC to make the announcement Tuesday afternoon. It is the Liberal government's first major energy decision. The Pacific Northwest LNG proposal, backed by Malaysian energy giant Petronas, will sit above one of the country's most prolific salmon-rearing habitats.
"Today the federal government approved the Pacific Northwest LNG project," McKenna told media Tuesday evening. "The only way to get resources to market in the 21st century, is to do it sustainably. This decision reflects this commitment."
The approval is seen as a win for Canadian industry which has been hit hard by low oil prices over the last two years. Minister Carr said the project would add $2.9 billion to Canada's GDP each year. But critics of the project say it will hurt Canada's chances of hitting its international climate targets, and damage the government's relationship with First Nations. Trudeau's government won an election last year on promises of climate action and a new relationship with First Nations.
Marc Lee, lead economist of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, called the project a "carbon bomb" out of step with BC and Canada's commitments to curb emissions. "Even if you just take the straight-up numbers from government and the proponent, and compare to those targets, it's really problematic."
Lee submitted his own assessment of the project's carbon footprint during the project's federal environmental assessment this spring, including both "upstream" extraction and processing impacts, as well as "downstream" combustion overseas. He said the project would make it impossible for BC to meet its climate targets, and doesn't bode well for the feds either.
"If the government goes ahead and approves Kinder Morgan, as it's kind of hinted it will, any climate action plan they introduce, carbon tax or not, is not going to have a lot of credibility," he told VICE.
Controversy has also dogged the project's consultation with First Nations. Of the five nations the project was legally required to consult, all but one have signed on or given conditional approval. Lax Kw'alaams band, one major holdout and opponent of the project, turned down a $1.2 billion benefit package last year over concerns the Lelu Island shipping terminal will damage Skeena River salmon stocks.
Though the band recently voted to continue talks with the proponent, community leaders and hereditary chiefs have since spoken out against the project.
Former Lax Kw'alaams mayor Gary Reece has been an outspoken opponent of the development, maintaining a protest camp on Lelu Island for more than a year. He told VICE the recent vote on whether to continue talks with the government and proponent was misleading.
"I know there's a handful that support the project, but the majority of people I've been talking to tell me they don't support it," he said. "The way [the ballot question] was worded confused a lot of people."
"There are some people who just don't care about the sea resources and environment, and that's sad, but that's what we're looking at."
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