A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.


Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf

Images:

McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html

What is TransCanada’s public participation strategy in Quebec?

[…] to conflate the opening of a browser window with helping to put up yard signs under the single rubric “participation” […] is not only to denigrate actual participation but to promote notions of participation that could easily undermine the very idea. (Unless, the cynic in me wonders, that’s the intention.)” D. Wood [1]

Public participation is required as part of any EIA performed in Canada. However the extent to which it is practiced in a meaningful manner is another story; as described by Arnstein, it can range from manipulation to citizen control. For effective participation, Arnstein argues that we should completely avoid tokenism (and the No power, of course).[2]

http://www.georgejulian.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Arnsteins-ladder-1969-cropped.jpg” alt=”Arnstein Ladder of public participation” />

One of the most important pipeline projects -the Energy East Pipeline project by TransCanada – is currently undergoing an EIA process. Because the project would cross many provincial borders, it has triggered a Federal EIA, but provinces can require the company to comply with their own sets of requirements before allowing the project to go ahead on their lands. The consultation process has already started in Ontario [3], but it hasn’t yet started in Quebec. TransCanada has not provided the necessary information to the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) andas of February 5, 2015 the BAPE has not been mandated by the Quebec government to perform public consultations [4].

An article by Alexandre Shields (Le Devoir, January 9, 2015) outlined the non-existence of a French version of the documents submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) relative to the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed pipeline. The author reported that the NEB (the responsible authority for the project) would not require the proponent to translate the document and would not translate it itself either [5]. This situation is appalling considering the fact that a portion of the pipeline would go through the province of Quebec and that only 36.1% of Quebec’s population (whose first language is French) is bilingual [6]. How can the public properly participate in such a situation? The NEB argues that the information provided on TransCanada’s website is sufficient for the francophones to understand the extent of the project, but as Alexander Shields mentions, the information on the proponent’s website is not verified by the NEB and therefore its exactness cannot be guaranteed [5]. In addition, as is argued by Wood (2010), a critical geographer, displaying information on the web is only suitable for passive public and should never be labeled public participation [7].

Source: EcoWatch - Southern portion of Keystone XL pipeline

The question I ask then is: Considering the heated debate over oil production in Quebec, does TransCanada want to shut down Quebecer’s voices?

The Energy East public relations’ strategy to convince Quebecers to adopt the pipeline despite strong initial opposition was initially based on promotion of the merits of the pipeline. The public relations company, Edelman, stated in their Strategic Plan for Quebec that:

“At first, Québécois are unfamiliar with oil as an energy resource. Myth and misgivings are even more present when it comes to oil from Alberta’s oils sands, which are also closely associated with Stephen Harper’s government and policies. Education on the subject is thus highly required.” [8](p.17)

As a result, it would seem to be in the company’s interest to display information as transparently as possible and to disseminate information as widely as possible so that the public is aware of their efforts to understand the impact of the pipeline on the environment, as well as their effort to mitigate the impacts where possible. It looks like instead, TransCanada intends to simply display information, and not necessarily in a transparent way. Not more. This can hardly be called public participation.


References:

[1] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 161.

[2] Noble, B.F. (2010). Chapter 11: Public Participation in EIA, in Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment – A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Canada: 184.

[3] Ontario Energy Board, Energy East Consultation and Review. http://www.ontarioenergyboard.ca/html/oebenergyeast/EEindex.cfm#.VNORyp2G-8A

[4] Shields, Alexandre (January 20, 2015). Retard majeur au Québec, Le Devoir.  http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/429362/energie-est-retard-majeur-au-quebec

[5] Shields, Alexandre (January 9, 2015). Pas de documents en français pour Énergie Est, Le Devoir.  http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/428516/one-pas-de-documents-en-francais-pour-energie-est

[6] Secrétariat à la Politique Linguistique, Québec. Tableau: Population bilingue (français et anglais), Québec. La dynamique des langues en quelques chiffres. Gouvernement du Québec, 2009. Retrieved at:  http://www.spl.gouv.qc.ca/documentation/rapportssondagesstatistiques/dynamiquedeslangues/tableaux/

[7] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 156-171.

[8] Edelman. (May 20, 2014). Strategic Plan: Quebec – Energy East Pipeline, Calgary, p.17. Retrieved on January 15, 2015 from http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/Global/canada/file/2014/11/TC%20Energy%20East%20Quebec%20Plan.pdf

Monetizing the intangible

By Chloe L’Ecuyer-Sauvageau,

There was an event on September 25, Why Forests Matter, organized by the Nature Conservancy of Canada; six panelists presented their view on aspects of forest conservancy. Their presentations touched on the issues of intrinsic beauty, ecosystem services, precautionary principle, and ways to preserve the forests. Their rationale for conservation was related in part to its intrinsic beauty, but mainly for preserving habitat, carbon sequestration, health impacts, etc. One of the issues raised was: what is the monetary value of forests? And why is this important to know? The following TED talk by Pavan Sukhdev (2011) provides insight on the matter.

Monetizing ecosystem services is a way to address externalities, and as mentioned by Pavan Sukhdev in the video, “you cannot manage what you can’t measure”.

In the practice of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), monetization can be very important, especially as part of defining the alternatives to the project and when identifying the valued ecosystem components (VEC).

Project Alternatives

Defining project alternatives is important to come up with a project proposal that will be economically viable and environmentally sound. Typically, alternatives to a proposed project are based on the location of the project, its design and/or its mere existence.  For example, a government wants to generate more low-carbon energy (purpose) for its growing population (need of the project). The government could decide to do an EIA for a new hydroelectric dam, but before choosing this option, alternatives such as wind or solar powered energy could be looked at. The government should also look at the status quo, where no project would take place. The reason why monetizing impacts is important in this case, is that in order to decide what options are suitable, we need to determine which is the most cost-effective and, to appropriately do that, we need to include externalities so that all costs (environmental and social) are represented and taken into account in the decision.

Valued Ecosystem Components

VEC are aspects of the human and biophysical environment that are considered to be important and, as a result, they require detailed consideration in EIAs (Noble, 2010). Identifying VEC is of critical importance, but it is as important to define VEC objectives and indicators, because these will be used to collect information for the baseline, to predict impacts, to perform accurate monitoring and to manage and mitigate impacts. VEC indicators need to be measurable, so that we can differentiate between natural changes and impacts caused by a project. It is possible to use qualitative indicators but usually quantitative measures speak more effectively to decision makers. This is why it may be useful to use dollar value.

Monetization of the intangible, such as ecosystem services and externalities in general is by no means easy, but to effectively understand issues monetization can be a very powerful tool. This is why we should keep doing research on the subject and improve our techniques to fairly represent the intangible.


References

Noble (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment – A Guide to Principles and Practice. Oxford University Press, Second Edition, Canada, 2010, page 89.

Why Forests Matter [http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-you-can-do/other-ways-to-help/promotions/why-forests-matter-quebec.html]

P. Sukhdev, Put a value on nature! TEDGlobal 2011, 16 minutes:31 seconds, Filmed July 2011, http://www.ted.com/talks/pavan_sukhdev_what_s_the_price_of_nature.

Alexander, C., and DePratto, B. (2014). The Value of Urban Forests in Cities Across Canada. Special Report, TD Economics. http://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/UrbanForestsInCanadianCities.pdf

  • This is the article that one of the speakers, Karen Clarke-Whistler, referred to during her presentation.