‘They’re trying to take the whole enchilada:’ Environmentalists cry foul over industry-inspired changes to Bill C-69

We haven’t got a sober second thought, we’ve got a complete re-writing,’ said Josh Ginsberg, lawyer for Ecojustice

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is seen speaking at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., on March 7, 2019.

OTTAWA — Environmentalists are raising the alarm over a suite of more than 250 amendments proposed for the Liberal government’s environmental review legislation, warning the industry-inspired changes could alter the bill beyond recognition.

On Monday evening the Senate energy committee will begin combing through as many as 300 proposed amendments to Bill C-69, which would overhaul the environmental review process for major projects like oil pipelines and nuclear facilities. The committee now has just three days to consider several packages of proposed amendments from both Conservative and Independent senators which, if accepted, would need to be sent back to the House of Commons for approval.

But environmentalists say the proposed changes would effectively wipe away some of the most critical environmental considerations in the bill, tipping the scales in favour of industry. They are focusing their criticism on the upper chamber, saying senators have folded to industry concerns in their study of Bill C-69.

“We haven’t got a sober second thought, we’ve got a complete re-writing,” said Josh Ginsberg, lawyer for Ecojustice.

He accused Conservative senators of taking a “copy and paste” approach to their amendments of the bill, after they put forward a number of proposed changes last week that directly reflected the demands of two oil and gas lobby groups.

“I’m concerned about the extent to which the oil and gas industry has influenced this process, and has dominated this process,” Ginsberg said.

A number of proposed amendments put forward by the Independent Senators Group are either fully or partially supported by the oil and gas industry, according to a document obtained by the National Post, presenting a real possibility that Bill C-69 is sent back to the House of Commons with major changes. In a review of 26 Independent amendments, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) fully supported three amendments, partially supported 10, and rejected 13.

The oil and gas sector began heaping criticism onto Bill C-69 shortly after it was introduced, saying it threatens to stop any major pipeline project from being built. Some argue that passage of the bill would add to constraints that have already hindered the construction of major oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion project now owned by the federal government. A number of provincial leaders including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney have also blasted the bill.

Environmental groups say those concerns are overblown, and that the proposed amendments threaten to dilute the underlying environmental thrust of the bill.

“This could weaken the whole point of environmental assessment, which is to consider climate impacts in their totality,” said Nichole Dusyk, senior analyst at Pembina Institute.

The heaviest criticisms of the bill have almost exclusively come from the oil and gas sector. Other interest groups representing the mining, hydro power and nuclear generation industries, for example, were broadly supportive of Bill C-69, and proposed only minor amendments.

Adding to environmentalist worries, senators will soon come up against their May 16 deadline to complete a final report on the legislation, forcing them to sift through hundreds of line-by-line amendments in just a few days.

“I honestly have no idea how they’re going to get through this,” Dusyk said.

Last week Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald, deputy chair of the energy committee, put forward a package of amendments that mirrored the proposed changes from CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA). They also included proposed changes from some provinces.