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BC Politics

Eby Defends BC’s LNG and Coal Exports

‘Oil and gas is a real sector with actual jobs,’ says the premier, facing tough questions about climate crisis emissions.

Andrew MacLeod 18 Dec 2023The Tyee

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

However serious the B.C. government may be about cutting carbon emissions and transitioning to a cleaner economy, the reality is the province remains heavily dependent on exporting fossil fuels.

It was a point made by Parksville-Qualicum Independent MLA Adam Walker in November during question period at the legislature.

“Members in this house know that our largest export is energy products, and in 2022, we saw a massive increase, a doubling of the value of coal exports in British Columbia,” Walker said. “There is a lack of common sense when the premier, in defending the CleanBC plan, points to a doubling of coal exports as a measure of success.”

The government had been under fire from BC United MLAs who pointed to a Business Council of BC report they said showed a rising carbon tax would damage the province’s economy.

The response from the government was to question the report’s conclusions and the opposition’s interpretation of them, and to stress that despite having a carbon tax in place since 2008, the province’s economy has been one of the strongest in the country, with a low unemployment rate.

Walker, who was dumped from the NDP caucus in September over a complaint about his management of staff in his constituency office, wanted to know how major energy projects — the Trans Mountain pipeline, the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat and the Coastal GasLink pipeline — would add to B.C.’s carbon emissions.

“What are the emissions that we will see in British Columbia from these projects,” he asked, “for the pipeline, for the compressor stations and for the fuel that we use to transfer this energy across the world?”

Walker, by the way, tag-teamed with Adam Olsen, Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, during the debate of housing bills this fall and turned up in Courtenay on Nov. 17 for the announcement of the BC Green Party’s candidate in Courtenay-Comox, Arzeena Hamir.

Responding for the government, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman said that the CleanBC plan — which charts a path to a 40 per cent reduction in emissions from 2007 levels by 2030 — includes in its accounting the domestic emissions from the first phase of the LNG Canada facility, including the upstream increase in gas production.

“In addition to that, we’re bringing in an emissions cap on the oil and gas sector to meet their sectoral target of 33 to 38 per cent,” Heyman said. “The member should know that coal exports from British Columbia are metallurgical coal, among the least carbon-intensive coal in the world, and it is used to make steel for things like wind turbines and many other facets of the clean economy.”

Walker said it matters little to the climate what kind of coal B.C. is exporting. “That coal gets burned,” he said. “Whether it’s used to create energy or used to create steel, it still represents significant emissions.”

According to the most recent figures available from BC Stats, the provincial government’s statistics office, coal and natural gas together accounted for nearly 31 per cent of B.C.’s exports.

In the first eight months of the year, the export of those two fuels was worth $10.8 billion.

The photo shows a sprawling industrial complex under construction, with dozens of large buildings, cranes and a giant round concrete structure. It’s a cloudy day, and mountains are visible in the background.
LNG Canada’s Kitimat plant, expected to begin some operations in 2024, will add to the province’s emissions. BC’s emissions reduction targets account for domestic emissions from the first phase of the LNG Canada facility and more gas production upstream, but not emissions from burning of the gas after export. Photo via LNG Canada.

Asked by The Tyee about coal exports, Premier David Eby said metallurgical coal is a needed product that B.C. should continue to export, but he expressed concern about the proposed sale of coal assets by Teck, B.C.’s main coal miner, to Glencore, the Swiss mining giant.

“Glencore is a company with an at best spotty environmental, social and governance record,” Eby said. “I am extremely skeptical this is in the interests of British Columbians or Canadians. We have met with them to talk about that purchase.”

Glencore’s wish is to take the B.C. sites, which employ some 5,000 people to mainly produce metallurgical coal, and bundle them with the company’s thermal coal assets into an entity that would be spun off in a couple of years, Eby said.

“Until we find ways to produce steel without [metallurgical coal], it is a good product to be exported from British Columbia,” he said. “Wrapping it up with thermal coal to produce electricity, that is not a good product, and owned by a company with a spotty ESG record, that’s a challenge too.”

To support a sale, Eby said, the province would need a firm commitment from Glencore to protect jobs, meet expectations of local First Nations and address concerns about action on selenium pollution.

Despite criticisms from the opposition, it is possible to both protect the environment and build the economy, said Eby. “This province needs real leadership on climate change, and that includes recognizing that the oil and gas sector is a real sector with actual jobs in our community and it will be for the foreseeable future.”

The province has committed to setting a cap on emissions from oil and gas, he said, and has said new LNG facilities won’t be approved unless they can demonstrate their emissions will be net zero by the year 2030.

“We have transitioned away from subsidies for the oil and gas industry, the deep-well credit program, and we’re using that money to build the clean economy that we need,” he said, contrasting the approach with BC United’s. “It is not the same to say, ‘Let ’er rip.’ We are putting strong climate conditions on this industry and we expect them to hit our emissions goals just like any other industry, and that is a very significant difference.”

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon has said he would introduce a “common sense plan” to replace the NDP government’s CleanBC plan that would “go all-in on LNG,” electrify the LNG industry and prioritize carbon capture and storage.

BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, the MLA for Cowichan Valley, said ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies would be a good first step in cutting emissions. “Stop propping the industry up. That’s No. 1.”

Aside from deep-well credits, the industry gets subsidized rates for BC Hydro electricity and water, she said. In the case of LNG Canada, Furstenau added, the carbon tax the project pays is fixed at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions at a time when regular British Columbians pay $65 a tonne.

“We’ve gone way off course in B.C. in that the biggest polluters are paying the least,” Furstenau said. “To tax the biggest polluter less than half is really the reversal of what carbon pricing should have been.”

With all the contradictions, she said, it is easier for opposition parties like BC United and the Conservative Party of BC to tell a simple story that undermines climate action than it is for the government to demonstrate that it’s making the needed transition.

“We continue to see governments that are unable to respond appropriately to the climate emergency and we have now seen a renewed politicization of climate change at a time when the real-world impacts and catastrophes are mounting,” Furstenau said.

The costs of climate change are already enormous and governments need to show they take the emergency seriously by investing in food security, water security and resilient infrastructure, she said.

The province talks about climate leadership, but the evidence shows it’s a laggard, she said.

“That disconnect people are feeling creates a loss of trust.”  [Tyee]

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