B.C. minister says 'we're not afraid' of federal environmental tests

VICTORIA -- British Columbia's minister in charge of liquefied natural gas is heading to Ottawa for talks on how the federal government's promised changes to environmental reviews will impact the province's plans for a multibillion dollar LNG industry.

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"We're not afraid, frankly," Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said Tuesday. "We're the guys who put in the carbon tax. We've been ahead of this curve. We've put in rules to make our LNG the cleanest in the world."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said his government will soon announce changes to the environmental approval process for oil and gas projects. He has said there will be a transition period for projects under review and no proponent will be asked to return to square one.

There were reports Tuesday that the changes will include a separate test to determine impacts on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, which will apply to several projects under review, including Pacific NorthWest's planned LNG export terminal in northern B.C.

Coleman said he hasn't seen details of the federal Liberals' plans, but he expects B.C.'s current environmental regulations to meet any existing or new emissions standards.

"We believe we can always get better, but there is a lot of common ground here," he said.

He will travel to Ottawa next week to meet with Carr and is arranging a meeting with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Premier Christy Clark is also scheduled to be in Ottawa next week.

B.C.'s Environment Minister Mary Polak is expected to be in Ottawa Wednesday to meet with federal politicians.

Coleman said B.C. passed legislation that requires LNG operations to meet emissions benchmarks or face penalties. But environmental groups say B.C. won't meet its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions one-third below 2007 levels by 2020.

The minister said he expects the release of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's draft report within weeks on whether to grant conditional approval of the proposed $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG export plant at Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, B.C.

He said he also expects the federal cabinet to decide whether to approve the project by late March.

"The draft report comes put shortly and it would be before the federal cabinet before the end of March," said Coleman. "That's our hope. At this stage we think it's doable, and it seems the feedback we're getting federally is it's doable."

Pacific NorthWest LNG said in a statement it is engaged in a "constructive, science-based discussion with the government of Canada."

Backed by Malaysian state-owned energy giant Petronas, Pacific NorthWest LNG is billed as the largest private sector investment in B.C. history. It is expected to create up to 4,500 construction jobs and is estimated to generate $9 billion in revenues for the province in a decade.

Pacific NorthWest LNG has yet to make a final investment decision on the project.

At environmental approval hearings on Kinder Morgan's US$5.4 billion proposal to triple the capacity of the Alberta-to-B.C. Trans Mountain pipeline, opponents have urged the federal government to immediately halt the review and implement the changes.

Greenpeace Canada energy campaigner Mike Hudema said in a statement federal environmental tests on energy projects would be welcome.

"Any reasonable climate test needs to take into account the cumulative emissions of a project -- from producing, transporting and burning oil and be in line with Canada's climate commitment to help stabilize global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius -- a limit that means survival for millions of people."


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