Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Ministry of Environment Budgetary work dominating Skeena MLA's time at Legislature this week

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross taking part in Environmental Discussions
in Committee work in Victoria this week

With the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change hosting committee sessions this week, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross is making the most of the opportunities to question Minister George Heyman on a range to topics related to the portfolio and the Budgetary estimates for the Ministry.

Mr. Ross, the BC Liberal critic on matters of the environment and Climate Change has participated In two days of committee hearings so far this week, his work of Monday offering him a chance to review environmental themes from his time as Chief Councillor with the Haisla and his views on how the process of watching over the environment has evolved in the years that followed. 

Climate change is an important issue. But from where I come from, it was just one of the many, many, many issues that we tried to address when trying to deal with all the environmental impacts. I was actually quite pleased to hear water being mentioned in the minister's opening statements. It's actually been a big part of my life — in terms of fresh water, in terms of salt water. 

There's a lot of different things that we can do that actually improve the water quality. When we're talking about landfills — the leeching. When we're talking about landfill waste that actually comes from all of our municipalities. When we're talking about agricultural runoff. When we're talking about sewage. 

These are all issues that I learned on the job and tried to address and really had no allies. I'm glad to see that the mentality has changed over the last 17 years for everybody's benefit, including protecting the coastline. 

Towards jurisdiction, the Skeena MLA noted of the range of responsibilities of both provincial and federal governments and the need for more collaboration,  accountability and transparency. 

This is where the comments regarding jurisdiction come into play. Because yes, we do want to protect the coastline, but most of the impact comes from shipping. I do understand the jurisdictional argument there, between the federal government and the provincial government. 

But we're talking about things that affect water quality right in front of our communities, such as the spilling of bilge water or ballast water. And we've seen the effects of this in places like the Great Lakes. 

If there was ever a time to collaborate in terms of protecting our coast line…. These are one of the areas that we can collaborate on right now, especially when we're thinking about what's coming and what's already there in terms of what's on the coastline. 

The amount of vessels on our waters outside the B.C. coast — bunker fuel, diesel, oil, all types of products that can get into our environment. 

The arguments go away when we have a spill. When we have a ship go down, and that vessel leaks diesel for the next 20, 30 years, as the vessel degrades. 

These are great topics and I'm glad to see that we're going to have a really good, serious question and answer period here, to address some of the budgetary decisions from the provincial government. 

The Monday session also found the MLA also speaking to interest in Geothermal opportunities, particular. project in his own riding proposed by the Kitselas First Nation and some of the challenges and delays that they have found in moving it forward.

In that respect, we also have another example in my riding, with Kitselas Geothermal, owned by the Kitselas First Nation. They have similar complaints. It was a project that they actually started for electricity to provide economic growth on their lands beside the airport. 

They followed the rules. They invested their own money. They were actually under the banner of the standing offer program by B.C. Hydro, which then got cancelled. They actually didn't break much of a stride. 

All they really wanted was to say: "Okay, when we're talking about the same land base and we're talking about the same amount of work and we're talking about the same amount of investment in terms of studies, could we get an order-in-council to actually just move the wellhead a little bit closer to the buildings we're proposing so that we can provide cooling and heat instead of electricity?" 

And They were told no. They were basically told: "No. You've got to start from scratch again." This is a First Nation that's in stage 6 of treaty negotiations. That land will be theirs under treaty. 

We all know that under treaty, you're expected to build up an economic base to be self-sustaining and independent. 

And So they're quite upset that they had to start over again for the chunk of land that's the same. It's got nothing to do with the incentives. It's got nothing to do with programs. It's really, partially, for their treaty sustainability as well as them, just like everybody else, trying to meet the sustainability targets under B.C.'s climate change strategy. 

So similar problem, but different circumstances. And I see the net benefit here applying directly towards the minister's goals of reducing emissions. 

So in this respect, can I ask the minister: if there is collaboration at the cabinet table, to what extent is that collaboration being put towards the approval process or the regulations or the policies in terms of geothermal projects all across B.C.?

Mr. Heyman noted that the government should be looking for ways to address any outstanding issues and move the process ahead efficiently.

Tuesday, Mr. Ross was once again exploring themes of Geo Thermal options in the province, with a focus this time on some plans from the Kistsumkalum First Nation towards a wood waste project.

We talked about clean innovation and Energy, Mines and whatnot in terms of application processes, and I've already made comment about how it doesn't seem to match up with the goals of government. But in terms of First Nations engagement, there's a specific project in my region that's been on the books for a number of years now, and it's got to do with bioenergy. 

And that's taking the wood waste from the forest. I'd say, in my own opinion, it's not necessarily an Aboriginal file anymore, because the agreement was signed already. It was actually an accommodation. It was an agreement between B.C. Hydro and Kitsumkalum in exchange for their consent to allow the Pacific transmission line to be built. 

In exchange for that, they agreed to a bioenergy plant. But they've been having a lot of difficulty in getting that agreement, to breathe life into that agreement. I just wonder: where does this…?  We already know that bioenergy actually fits into the strategy, but how does it when the agreement is already signed in terms of general principles? 

How does that fit into the government's plan in terms of the construction, of course, because they already have the supply, and how does that fit in, in terms of the overall plan for the climate action strategy?

The question is pretty specific. Kitsumkalum First Nation band is in stage six of treaty negotiations and has already got the accommodation agreement signed with B.C. Hydro, but can't get any movement. They really feel that they've got a good project that can utilize wood waste in Skeena. 

Does the Kitsumkalum project fit within the bioenergy strategy? I understand it's a work in progress. I understand that. But where does the First Nation go — in this case, Kitsumkalum — to actually get some real movement in terms of government approvals to move ahead on this?

Mr. Heyman observed that the proposal would best be addressed through the Forests, Lands and Natural Resources area, noting how the government would be available to help facilitate that discussion.

Mr. Ross also put a spotlight on LNG themes in the Northwest, first with the LNG Canada project and then for a project still under consideration by the Nisga'a Nation.

It sounds like till 2030, LNG Canada will only be permitted to build trains 1 and 2. 

And I guess after 2030, they'll have to justify the rationale for further emissions for trains 3 and 4. 

That's what I got out of that. 

In that same vein…. And this might be a cross-jurisdictional question, but the Nisga'a Lisims Government is self-governing. They were one of the few bands in B.C. that actually signed a treaty with B.C. and Canada.   

And they have entered, this past year, into negotiations with both Western LNG and Rockies LNG. 

And they're basically a group of Canadian gas producers. And So jurisdiction-wise, in relation to B.C.'s climate action goals, considering that they are a self-governing nation, will there be a line of jurisdiction versus what the Nisga'a Lisims Government can do on its own? 

Or will they have to abide by the climate action strategies put forward by this government?

On the latter proposal, Minister Heyman noted that the Nisga'a proposal is not on treaty lands and would be subject to a BC environmental process and the Environmental Act.

You can review the two session from the BC Legislature Archives with the full record of the discussions and video options available below:

Monday Afternoon Committee Session Minutes  (video available here)

Tuesday Afternoon Committee Session Minutes  (video available here)

For more work of the Skeena MLA at the Legislature see our archive page here

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