Oil lobby group asks for environmental laws to be suspended due to coronavirus

Letter recommends wide-range of delays, suspensions and changes relating to pollution monitoring, migratory birds, climate change and indigenous rights

Louise Boyle
New York
Friday 17 April 2020 20:29
comments
Pipelines carrying steam and oil run near Fort McMurray, Alberta REUTERS/Todd Korol/File Photo
Pipelines carrying steam and oil run near Fort McMurray, Alberta REUTERS/Todd Korol/File Photo

A leaked letter from Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby to the country’s government has revealed more than 30 requests to suspend environmental regulations, laws and policies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) made the requests over 13 pages to members of prime minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, in a letter reported by Global News.

The letter, from 27 March, lays out proposals for a wide-range of delays, suspensions and changes in the industry relating to pollution monitoring, impact of sites on migratory birds, climate change and indigenous rights, among other topics.

On Friday, Mr Trudeau said more than $2bn (£1.6bn) in financial support would be made available for oil and gas companies in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan to help clean up contaminated sites and meet new federal standards that require a reduction in methane emissions, Global News reported.

But he said there would be no pause on action to fight climate change.

Mr Trudeau said: “Just because we’re in one crisis right now doesn’t mean we can forget about the other one the climate crisis that we are also facing as a world and as a country.”

CAPP’s letter was sent last month by Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the lobbying group.

Global News reported that the letter was sent after two meetings with Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan, and other government officials, on 19 and 26 March.

Mr McMillan wrote that the “depth of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are profound” and thanked the minister for meeting with members of the lobbying group.

“The openness to dialogue you and colleagues in cabinet have shown since the beginning of this crisis has been greatly appreciated,” he continued. The letter was sent to seven other ministers in the Canadian government.

Mr McMillan asked the government to adopt “a flexible approach to compliance for certain low risk regulatory requirements”.

CAPP also recommended to the government that it adopt a “do no harm principle” when it came to regulations and associated costs for the industry during the pandemic.

The letter was leaked to Environmental Defence, a conservation group based in Toronto, on Wednesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked the oil and gas industry in Canada and around the world as prices sharply declined due to less demand. A price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia added to the industry’s woes and threatened thousands of jobs.

Mr McMillan wrote: “Canada’s energy sector is currently facing unprecedented fiscal challenges resulting from a collapse in energy demand – stemming from the pandemic – and a surplus of supply driven by OPEC country actions. As a result, companies have been forced to cut capital expenditures by close to $6 billion in the last few weeks alone.”​

The lobbyists asked for a delay on plans to fight climate change. Canada is set to increase the Carbon Price to $40 in 2021 and $50 in 2022 but CAPP asked that the Carbon Price be held at $30/tonne CO2e “until economic recovery is underway”.

The lobbyists requested that a strategic assessment of climate change be postponed “until proper consultation is possible”.

CAPP also asked to postpone the development and consideration of any additional measures related to the climate, in respect to Canada’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas gases and reaching net-zero by 2050.

“Covid-19 will have significant implications on emissions and the economy. Exciting measures should be evaluated before additional measures are considered,” the letter stated.

Among the other recommendations was a request to postpone and potentially modify changes to regulations protecting migratory birds “which may introduce new field monitoring requirements and/or introduce project delays”. Reductions in reporting activity under the Fisheries Act during the pandemic was also recommended.

The letter asked that legislation on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) be deferred, saying effective consultation was not possible at this time. “To ensure alignment with the do no harm principle there will need to be fulsome understanding of how some key components of UNDRIP will work with economic recovery of Canada,” the letter reads.

Under the Lobbying Act, CAPP asked that due to “the strain on resources” caused by Covid-19, that the filling requirements when it comes to reporting of lobbying be suspended until the end of July.

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Canadians can view how many times a group has lobbied the government on a federal registry. CAPP listed 33 lobbying activities last month.

Toronto-based environmental group, Environmental Defence, questioned how some of the recommendations relate to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement to The Independent, Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager for Environmental Defence, said: “This is a crass attempt by the Canadian oil industry to exploit a global health crisis to ram through every demand they’ve ever made, and put at risk the health and safety of Canadian citizens, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection.”

CAPP did not immediately respond to an email from The Independent seeking comment.

The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Independent.

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