Environmental Groups Are Pushing To Overhaul The Way The U.S. And Canada Reviews Pipelines

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to head to the White House to talk climate policy in March, environmental groups are urging both countries to adopt a new, climate-focused method of evaluating energy infrastructure projects.

Ten U.S.- and Canadian-based groups released their proposed “climate test” Tuesday, a set of guidelines that they say would help ensure that both countries keep their infrastructure developments — including oil and gas pipelines and export terminals — and policies in line with their climate goals. The guidelines have four main points: Climate science — and limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — should drive the decision-making process; decision-makers must use models that incorporate a transition away from fossil fuels; environmental reviews must take into account global energy supply and demand and how it will shift to adhere to global climate goals; and decision-makers must take a proposed project or policy’s greenhouse gas emissions into account.

“For fossil fuel energy exporters like Canada and the U.S., it makes no sense to, on the one hand, be setting ambitious greenhouse gas targets, and making plans to achieve those targets, and then on the other hand be putting in place infrastructure that is destined to export fossil fuels into the global economy,” Dale Marshall, national program manager at Canada’s Environmental Defence, said on a call Tuesday. “That assumes markets for fossil fuel markets will grow, and the rest of world will not be acting on climate.”

Right now, the groups say, any environmental reviews of new energy infrastructure projects are done under a “business as usual” scenario, which assumes that nations of the world don’t drastically scale down their fossil fuel consumption. This scenario is consistent with 4˚C to 6˚C of warming — a far cry from the 1.5˚C goal that nations agreed to strive for in Paris. It doesn’t make sense for projects to be evaluated under this scenario, the groups say, when nations around the world are trying to reduce their emissions.

Earlier this year, Canadian officials announced that new proposed pipelines and natural gas export terminals would be subject to a climate test, which will take into account both the emissions from the extraction of the oil or gas the project would carry or store as well as the emissions associated with building or maintaining the project. The details on how much this data on a project’s emissions would affect the decision-making process aren’t yet clear, however, so groups are hoping the country will go further and adopt the four tenets of their test.

The United States, for its part, has guidance on when climate change should be considered in environmental reviews of energy projects. But the guidance isn’t always followed — it was for the Keystone XL pipeline, but in many other cases, agencies haven’t considered the full range of climate change impacts when determining whether to reject or approve a project.

“The Keystone XL pipeline was rejected because it failed the climate test President Obama evaluated it on,” Lena Moffitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement. “In applying this test to all future energy infrastructure plans, the U.S. will speed up its transition to clean and renewable energy and begin to leave dirty fuels in the ground.”

Trudeau is attending a White House state dinner with President Obama on March 10, during which the two leaders will reportedly talk climate and energy policy. Trudeau, throughout his campaign and so far in his leadership, has been committed to ensuring that Canada is a more environmentally-friendly place than it was under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He issued a moratorium on oil tankers off the British Columbia coast soon after taking office, and said at the Paris climate talks that Canada was “here to help” the world achieve its climate goals. He’s also been critical of some of the proposed pipelines in Canada, though he’s been quieter on others and was a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Trudeau is also set to hold a first ministers’ meeting on March 3, during which he’ll discuss climate policy with the premiers of the country’s provinces. The premiers don’t expect to come up with a full-fledged climate plan during that meeting, but will begin discussing potential new policies that could make up a new, more ambitious climate goal for the country.