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Liberals extend deadline for Trans Mountain pipeline decision to June 18

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  • OTTAWA — The federal government is putting off plans to pass judgment on the reconsidered Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal for nearly a month in order to finish its consultations with Indigenous groups, says Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

    The deadline is being pushed back — from May 22 to June 18 — on the recommendation of Indigenous communities and former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who is advising the government on the consultation process, Sohi said Thursday.

    “The government has consistently said that a decision would only be made on the project once we are satisfied that the duty to consult has been met,” he said in a statement.

    The proposal to twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C., was first approved by cabinet in 2016. The Federal Court of Appeal rescinded that decision last August, however, declaring that neither the environmental review nor the Indigenous consultations had been properly completed.

    After taking into consideration the impact of more oil tankers on marine life off the coast of B.C., the National Energy Board said on Feb. 22 that it still believed the project was in the public interest and should go ahead, subject to 156 conditions and 16 new non-binding recommendations for Ottawa.

    That decision gave cabinet 90 days to make its call, setting May 22 as the expected deadline. But even as that report was being finalized, officials in Sohi’s office were signalling that more time would likely be required.

    It was not lost on some critics that Thursday’s decision came two days after an Alberta election in which the lack of new pipelines played a significant role.

    Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs also pointed out on Twitter the Liberals were announcing the deadline extension one month before the deadline and on the last day before the four-day Easter long weekend.

    “Clearly never was a plan to decide in time for summer construction,” she said.

    Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney, whose United Conservative Party handily defeated Rachel Notley’s NDP government, ran on a no-holds barred approach to building pipelines. He threatened to turn off the oil taps to B.C. unless opposition to the pipeline is removed and also says he plans to hold a referendum in Alberta on equalization if there are no new pipelines built by 2021.

    On Thursday, however, Kenney — who said he discussed the matter this week with Prime Minister Trudeau — struck a more conciliatory tone.

    “I agreed with the prime minister that they need to make sure that they cross every T and dot every I when it comes to discharging the federal government’s duty to consult,” he said.

    “We certainly don’t want them having to go back to the drawing board a third time on this. We will continue on our part to build an alliance across the country that supports TMX and other pipelines.”

    Sohi said consultation teams are continuing to meet with Indigenous communities that could be impacted by the project.

    “This process includes engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue — to discuss and understand priorities of the groups our teams meet and to offer responsive accommodations, where appropriate.” 

    He said the government remains committed to doing “things differently” on the project.

    The Liberals are under intense pressure to make progress on Trans Mountain, the only pipeline project the government has approved to date. Ottawa spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing pipeline last year in a bid to overcome political hurdles holding up construction.

    Kinder Morgan investors got skittish in the wake of a B.C. court challenge, which aims to determine whether the province can prevent more diluted bitumen from flowing through B.C. given the limited understanding of how the product behaves when spilled in water.

    The company halted work last spring, and warned it would cancel the project altogether unless Ottawa could convince it that the delays would not continue. Ottawa bought the pipeline instead, planning to expand it and sell it back to the private sector or Indigenous-owned companies once complete.

    The National Energy Board told Sohi a few weeks ago that existing pipeline capacity is both full and running at near-maximum efficiency, meaning the only way for Alberta oil producers to get more product to market is to build new pipelines. Additional rail capacity is possible but not the most efficient way to move oil, the NEB said.

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Keep guard up against hurricanes in 2019, as risk remains potent: forecaster

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  • HALIFAX — It has been years since a major tropical storm wreaked havoc in Canada, but the Canadian Hurricane Centre is warning against complacency.

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its hurricane outlook Thursday, predicting nine to 15 named storms this season, with four to eight becoming hurricanes and two to four being major hurricanes.

    Bob Robichaud of the Canadian centre noted that’s similar to last year’s hurricane season, when only two storms hit Canada, including post-tropical storm Chris, which made landfall in Newfoundland in July 2018.

    However, Robichaud warns that some Atlantic Canadians may be forgetting storms like post-tropical storm Arthur, which snapped trees and caused massive power outages in 2014, and hurricane Juan’s widespread wrath in 2003.

    And he reminded journalists attending a briefing in Halifax about hurricane Michael, which flattened parts of the Florida panhandle last October.

    The Halifax-based centre has created a fresh smart phone app, and recommends people begin tracking storms as soon as they start and then monitor for shifts in direction and intensity.

    “What we advocate is for people to really stay in tune with weather information because the forecast can change as the storms are approaching,” Robichaud said.

    Robichaud says studies show that complacency levels rise about seven years after a storm like hurricane Juan, and that as a result people do less to prepare.

    “People tend not to take any preparedness action if they haven’t had any kind of hurricane in recent years,” said Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist.

    “For us it’s been five years since any major impactful storm … so it’s even more important to take the necessary precautions to get ready.”

    The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo has published a simple guide for Canadians on basic measures to take to prepare in particular for flood risk from extreme weather.

    The centre has repeatedly pointed out that without basic measures, basement flooding can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage during hurricanes.

    Its publications include a Home Flood Protection Program that begin with such simple steps as testing sump pumps, cleaning out eaves troughs and maintaining backwater valves.

    More advanced measures include removing obstructions from basement drains and creating grading to move water away from homes.

    The hurricane season runs from June 1 to early November.

    Robichaud said hurricanes tend to “feed on” warmer waters, and as result the centre is closely monitoring those trends.

    The meteorologist said as summer progresses it’s projected the water will warm in the eastern Atlantic and become warmer than average.

    In addition, Robichaud said the Atlantic Ocean continues to be in an overall period of high hurricane activity that hasn’t yet come to the end of a cycle.

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Philippines dismisses Canada’s plan to bring garbage back by end of June

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  • OTTAWA — The Philippines has rejected Canada’s late-June timeline for repatriating its garbage and is moving forward with plans to ship it back to Canada itself.

    Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a media briefing in Manila Thursday that Canada’s timeline isn’t good enough and that the Philippines government will have 69 containers of mislabelled Canadian trash headed back across the Pacific no later than next week.

    Earlier this week Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered the containers dumped in Canadian waters after Canada missed Duterte’s May 15 deadline to deal with the nearly six-year-old dispute.

    “The trash will be sent back the soonest,” Panelo said in Tagalog. “This week or a week after. Definitely not the end of June.”

    “We will not allow ourselves to be a dumping ground of trash.”

    Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday Ottawa has contracted the Canadian office of the French shipping giant Bollore Logistics to treat the waste and then bring it back to Canada before the end of June. Environment officials say the containers must be fumigated in the Philippines before being loaded onto a ship.

    McKenna’s press secretary, Sabrina Kim, said Canada is “fully engaged” with the Philippines to “promptly remove the waste to Vancouver for disposal.”

    The contract with Bollore is worth $1.14 million but the Philippines says it will pay to ship the trash back just to get it out of the country.

    The containers are the remainder of 103 shipping containers sent to the Philippines by a Canadian company in 2013 and 2014, falsely labelled as plastics for recycling. Philippine authorities were alarmed that the amount of material was more than the Philippine importer could process, and ordered an inspection, finding the containers to be filled mostly with regular garbage rather than any material that could be recycled.

    Canada and the Philippines have battled since 2014 about what to do with the contents. The Philippines has recently recalled its ambassador and consuls general until Canada deals with the waste.

    Several environment groups in both Canada and the Philippines argue Canada violated the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to prevent wealthier nations from using developing countries as trash heaps.

    The Canadian company that shipped the waste, Chronic Inc., has since gone out of business; while officials say they would like to try to go after it to get some of the costs back, that is proving difficult. Chronic Inc. is not believed to have violated any Canadians laws when it shipped the waste.

    Before 2016, Canada’s regulations under the Basel Convention only stipulated that the convention applied to shipments Canada considered hazardous. Canada did not then, and still does not, consider the waste to be hazardous. The Philippines does.

    As a result of this case, Canada changed its regulations to prevent this kind of situation from recurring. Now exporters must obtain permits from Environment and Climate Change Canada to ship waste if either Canada or the importing nation deems it to be hazardous.

    Garbage-filled containers are not all that rare, with the Philippines dealing with another such shipment this week from Australia. Reports from Manila say seven containers of garbage are now being rejected by the Philippines. That garbage was to be burned for energy in the Philippines but the country says that violates its clean-air laws.

    Last year South Korea took back containers of trash that had ended up in the Philippines in just a matter of months, drawing negative comparisons for Canada, which sat on its hands for almost six years.

    Duterte has also hinted at following China’s move to bar plastic recycling imports entirely. China used to be the biggest importer of recyclable plastics but in 2018 barred most shipments because too many of them were contaminated with materials that could not be recycled.

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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