Last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada against large portions of the federal government’s impact assessment law could reset the policy landscape in this country in favour of energy development, the head of a major oil and gas lobby group said Wednesday.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers CEO Lisa Baiton — who made the comments during a panel discussion following a business group luncheon in Calgary — said this country’s oil and gas industry has been subjected to “layer upon layer” of federal regulation in recent years.
She described the cumulative effect of various federal policies such as the promised emissions cap for the oil and gas sector and the proposed clean electricity regulations as a “pancake-ing” of regulation that has scared away investment and ultimately harmed the industry.
The federal impact assessment law, formerly known as Bill C-69, laid out a wide range of criteria for federal assessment of the environmental impacts of major projects.
But Baiton said the legislation was overly broad, adding another layer of regulatory uncertainty and leaving many companies unwilling to invest in development out of fear their proposed projects would never gain approval.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled the law is largely unconstitutional and infringes on areas of provincial jurisdiction. The decision, broadly welcomed by business groups across the country last week, could be a game-changer, Baiton said.
“This changes a lot in terms of resetting the policy landscape,” Baiton said, adding while her organization is optimistic, it is also still watching to see how the federal government will respond to the court decision.
“It’s a significant shift, but we still need to be vigilant,” she said.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has said the government’s environmental impact legislation can be fixed by rewriting a few sections.
He has also said that regulations to cap greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas production will be published as planned later this fall, and they won’t be affected by the recent court decision.
But Baiton said she’s hopeful the court decision will make it harder for the federal government to overrule provincial wishes in areas of energy development.
For example, the oil and gas industry is arguing that an overly punitive cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the sector would essentially limit the ability of companies to increase their production — an area Alberta says falls under provincial jurisdiction.
The clean electricity regulations, which Alberta is arguing will be impossible to achieve in the time frame laid out by the federal government, are also top of mind right now, Baiton said.
“We have significant concerns with the (clean electricity regulations) as proposed,” she said.
“With respect to the oil and gas sector, we are both a large producer and a large user of electricity.”
Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Shulz, who was also part of Wednesday’s panel discussion, said Bill C-69 was just one part of what has been a “continual rollout of barriers to industry” by the federal government.
She pointed out the ruling comes at the same time the government of Alberta is funding a multi-media ad campaign across the country to push back against the proposed clean electricity regulations, which the province has said will have the effect of increasing energy prices and straining the Alberta electricity grid.
Shulz said she hopes Friday’s Supreme Court decision adds some weight to Alberta’s arguments.
“It really changes the narrative on where we’re going,” Schulz said of the court ruling.
“It makes me hopeful on all those other pieces of regulation we’re trying to push back against.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2023.
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