IN THE NEWS ~ Tanker liability bill not enough to satisfy critics

Published | Publié: 2014-01-20

Received | Reçu: 2014-01-20 1:52 AM

Hill Times

Hill Times

Safeguarding Seas Bill could be part of resource agenda push.

By Mark Burgess

Bill C-3, the Safeguarding Seas and Skies Act, will be a key legislative feature in the Conservative government's quest for social licence for its resource agenda, but critics say the bill dealing with tanker liability doesn't go far enough to offset environmental risks.

The government is seeking to win the support of First Nations and the B.C. government for infrastructure projects to export crude oil from Alberta through B.C. ports. The National Energy Board recommended in December that Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline be approved if 209 conditions are met. Kinder Morgan applied to the energy regulator in December for approval to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline.

The federal Cabinet has about five months to make a decision on Northern Gateway. The B.C government has listed five conditions for its support of the project, including the need for world-class standards for environmental protection and spill response.

"The federal government is lead on best practices on the land and water-based environmental protection and clean-up. This should be a busy year for them on that front," pollster Greg Lyle of the Innovative Research Group told The Hill Times in an interview.

Legislation like Bill C-3, as well as new spending and capacity, could help its resource agenda, he said.

Bill C-3, the Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act, was introduced Oct. 18 and referred to committee on Dec. 12, just before the House rose. Its previous incarnation, Bill C-57, had been introduced in March 2013 but died on the Order Paper with prorogation.

The bill amends the Marine Liability Act, which covers ship operator liability, and incorporates the 2010 Hazardous and Noxious Substances Convention into Canadian law. The bill's sponsor, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt (Halton, Ont.), told Parliament the change would increase the amount of compensation available for pollution and other damage caused by hazardous substances from ships. It would establish the liability of ship owners in the event of spills and set a legal framework for those affected to access an international compensation fund.

Ms. Raitt also said the bill would strengthen spill prevention and preparedness at oil handling facilities by empowering Transport Canada inspectors to enforce compliance of prevention and emergency plans, and to issue fines.

It would also amend the Canada Shipping Act to give workers responding to spills during the loading or unloading of oil civil and criminal immunity protection, she said.

Bill C-3 "supports our government's plan for responsible resource development to ensure timely and efficient reviews of proposed resource projects, while strengthening world-class environmental standards," she said.

Will Amos, director of the Ecojustice clinic at the University of Ottawa, said that while the bill provides compensation for non-pollution damage like fires and explosions, it doesn't mean companies are responsible for paying 100 per cent of every cleanup cost, including the economic damage to tourism, fisheries, private property, and other ecological damage.

"It doesn't ensure that the damages caused by an oil spill from a tanker would be entirely covered by the companies involved," he said in an interview. "The principle of polluter pays is not fully entrenched in what is being proposed by this government."

The federal government's Tanker Safety Expert Panel, created last year to make Canada's tanker safety system "world class" and led by former Vancouver Fraser Port Authority president and CEO Gordon Houston, released its first report in December. The report pointed to "a number of areas that could be improved to enhance Canada's preparedness and response to ship-source oil spills," noting that Enbridge and Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposals could bring 600 more tankers per year to the B.C. Coast.

Its 45 recommendations included making the oil cargo industry responsible for the full cost of spills by removing the liability limit in Canada's Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund; making sure potential polluters have documented worst-case-scenario preparations; and improving spill response time.

A B.C. government study in October called for more federal resources to protect the West Coast, and said neither federal nor provincial law provides funds for individuals or communities facing long-term environmental damage.

A previous internal B.C. government study reported by various media said the province was unable to handle even a moderate oil spill, according to reports.

NDP energy and natural resources critic Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) responded in the House that the government was putting the bill forward to change British Columbians' minds about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. He said the bill doesn't address their concerns, after coast guard and other emergency response centres have been closed in the province.

"I think the government is doing damage control," Mr. Julian said in an interview.

"The government understands that the public is very skeptical about this government's willingness to really, in any substantive way, make responsible changes that actually allow for responsible development. We're going to take a real look at it but I think it's just a response to the public skepticism of how this government's proceeded."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) said in the House that the bill contains good measures, including implementing the convention, but she also pointed to closures of emergency preparedness offices. Her chief of staff, Debra Eindiguer, told The Hill Times they were just beginning to sort through the bill and didn't know yet if they would be submitting amendments.

Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.), his party's natural resources and energy critic, declined to comment for this article.

Aside from what he called the "almost inevitable" court cases to be brought by First Nations groups opposing the Northern Gateway project, Mr. Lyle said meeting the B.C. government's five conditions-including the need for world-class standards for environmental protection and spill response-would be a key challenge and priority for Enbridge.

"There's been some studies and reports issued that at the moment, I wouldn't say that there are very many people in British Columbia that feel that the government has yet put in place those world-class standards, and part of that is fulfilling the 209 conditions for the NEB approval," Mr. Lyle said.

He said his polling shows it's easier today to build support for pipelines than it was a couple of years ago, and that the level of anger against the Northern Gateway project has eased somewhat, though it's still very unpopular in northern B.C.

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The Hill Times



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