Oil Industry Lobbied for Omnibus Rewrite of Canada’s Environmental Laws

Documents reveal the oil industry pushed for changes to Canada’s environmental laws and even proposed the Harper government’s omnibus strategy.

I have noted before that the oil industry lobbied for the sweeping changes made to Canada’s environmental laws (see here and here). In this post I share the supporting evidence.

Protesters rally against omnibus budget bill C-38 in 2012. Source: The Media Co-op.
Protesters rally against omnibus budget bill C-38 in 2012. Source: The Media Co-op.

Let me preface my remarks by saying this: Although the oil industry can ask for whatever it wants, our government has a responsibility to protect the public interest. Unfortunately, the Harper government followed through on the oil industry’s demands by gutting Canada’s environmental protection regime with their 420-page Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38) of 2012. There is good cause to believe our federal government has been captured by oil interests.

The nature of the oil industry’s lobbying was exposed by journalists Max Paris, Heather Scoffield and Mike De Souza.

The oil industry groups involved are:

  • CEPA, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association;
  • CGA, the Canadian Gas Association;
  • CPPI, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, now renamed to the Canadian Fuels Association; and
  • CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Source documents were obtained from the federal government using Access to Information requests. The docs include:

  • A 27 October 2011 presentation by CEPA to International Trade Deputy Minister (DM) Louis Lévesque;

  • A 12 December 2011 letter from CEPA, CGA, CPPI and CAPP (pg. 1, pg. 2, pg. 3) to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver;

  • A package that contains:
    • Briefing material for a senior Environment Canada official attending a CAPP awards gala on 21 March 2012;
    • A 16 March 2012 letter from CAPP to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent lobbying for changes to the Species at Risk Act;
    • A 16 March 2012 letter from CAPP to Environment Canada (EC) DM Paul Boothe, Alberta Environment and Water DM Ernie Hui, Ontario Ministry of Environment DM Gail Beggs about Base-Level Industrial Emissions Requirements (BLIERs); and
    • A 13 March 2012 letter from EC DM Paul Boothe to the president of CAPP requesting information on chemical additives in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids.

De Souza kindly agreed to post the previously unreleased package. The last three items in the package have not been reported on, and are quite interesting in their own right.

With respect to changes to environmental legislation, the documents reveal:

  • Oil industry groups:
    • criticized the “philosophy of prohibiting harm” in environmental legislation;
    • advocated a “whole of government consideration of several pieces of legislation” including “the National Energy Board (NEB) Act, the Canadian Environment Assessment Act (CEAA), the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA), the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), and others”; and
    • asked for “one project - one review by the best-placed regulator” (never mind that regulators are responsible for different things and have expertise in different areas).
  • CEPA, specifically:
    • requested “one project - one review”; and
    • lobbied for “Changes to Canadian Environmental Assessment Act” and “new regulations under Navigable Waters Protection Act”.
  • CAPP, specifically:
    • “raised issues with ‘one-off’ reviews of specific legislation such as CEAA and SARA and would rather have a more strategic omnibus legislative approach”, according to the briefing document (emphasis mine); and
    • lobbied federal Environment Minister Peter Kent for changes to the Species at Risk Act owing to legal difficulties it was causing CAPP members.

“One project, one review” became a central plank of the Harper government’s Responsible Resource Development Initiative. De Souza asked CAPP for clarification about the briefing document’s attribution of the “strategic omnibus legislative approach”. CAPP replied that they “cannot speak to the government’s specific choice of words”. Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver were later found by a federal court to have broken the law by failing to uphold the Species at Risk Act.

In the end, the oil industry got everything it wanted and more. Omnibus bill C-38 made changes to seventy different pieces of legislation. It was fast-tracked through the Finance Committee, foregoing proper scrutiny. Time allocation and closure were invoked to shut down debate in the House of Commons. There was unprecedented criticism from former Fisheries ministers, including two Progressive Conservatives. Over 800 amendments were proposed by opposition parties. All were defeated. Bill C-38 stands as a monumental low-point in Canada’s democratic history.