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District of Squamish asks province to impose climate emergency conditions on Woodfibre

In a divided 4-3 vote, municipal council finalized a motion that was proposed last week
Woodfibre LNG

It’s official — the District of Squamish won’t support Woodfibre LNG’s request for a five-year extension to its licence unless the company promises to reduce its carbon emissions in line with targets set out by the United Nations.

In a divided vote 4-3 vote, councillors passed a resolution saying that Woodfibre LNG must meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets for its operation within the District of Squamish to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

The decision gives final approval to a motion that was discussed last week. Council again voted along the same lines this time around on May 19.

Mayor Karen Elliott and councillors Jenna Stoner, Chris Pettingill and Armand Hurford were in favour.

Councillors John French, Doug Race and Eric Andersen were opposed.

This motion is not necessarily binding for Woodfibre, as it is the province that will have the final say on this matter.

Council made this motion because B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, or EAO, is currently considering a five-year extension for the project's environmental certificate, which will expire in October.

As part of the process, the EAO is asking for feedback from those affected by the project.

The District is among those allowed to give feedback, and this motion is part of what it is choosing to submit to the province.

“The most concerning thing for me about this move is the message that it sends to industrial operators thinking about relocating here or starting up in Squamish,” said French. “We’re essentially telling a business that has federal approval, provincial approval, Squamish Nation support and property that’s appropriately zoned that they’re not welcome here.”

Race said that by his count, the Woodfibre project will release significantly less carbon in comparison with the province’s standard for carbon emissions.

He added that the motion’s ask to reduce carbon emissions doesn’t make clear the timeline or the relation to which the reduction is to be measured.

It’s arguable that Woodfibre has already met much of the targeted reductions, as it has shifted from powering its facility by natural gas to powering it via electricity, which has saved on a lot of emissions, Race said.

Andersen said this could establish a precedent that will discourage investment in the community.

He added that the community has to be careful about targeting its efforts. In previous meetings, Andersen has said that Woodfibre has been subject to standards that haven’t been applied to other big projects in town. He also previously noted that the municipal climate plan does not cover big industry emissions like Woodfibre in its scope.

On the other hand, Stoner said that the District has applied stringent environmental standards to other industries in town.

“We’ve been having this conversation with our construction industry for years [about] the Step Code and what the future of the Step Code is going to look like, so to say this is singling out a single industry is not fair,” she said.

The Step Code provides a path for builders to make environmentally-friendly facilities.

She added that at least one other major fossil fuel company has committed to reducing its carbon emissions.

BP announced in February it’s aiming to get its operations to become net-zero by 2050.

“When you have a company of that size committing to net-zero by 2050, and you have Woodfibre saying that they can’t, I don’t see how those two fit together,” said Stoner.

“I think it just means they’re trying to get off the hook….We are giving them time here to figure out a plan to achieve net-zero by 2050, and there’s nothing off the table in terms of how they could do that. It might look like buying carbon offsets, it might look like partnering with Carbon Engineering.”

Pettingill said that the motion reflected the urgency of climate change’s impacts.

He noted that while the District’s climate plan acknowledges it can’t count all the emissions, such as those from Woodfibre, it’s still necessary to ask for carbon reductions.

“We don’t quite have a plan for everything yet, but I think we still do need to call out that [the] 45%, and, subsequently, 100% [carbon reductions] are necessary for our survival,” said Pettingill. “Any new project that comes along — this needs to be part of the discussion.”

Hurford said it’s not a go- or no-go position that the District is giving, but rather feedback for the province.

“Without making this ask, we are leaving the responsibility of hitting those targets to private citizens and the taxpayers — it’s not responsible to ask that only of the taxpayers,” he said.

“We need to hit our targets and this [project] puts those targets so far out of reach, it makes my head spin.”

Elliott said that the motion was about raising the bar.

She said she wasn’t worried about it hurting the town’s economic prospects, as some firms are looking to align their brand with communities that have a strong stance on environmental issues.

“We are small, but are part of the solution. And this bar needs to be raised globally. And it starts with leaders like ourselves setting a high standard, not only for ourselves and our citizens, but for the corporations that decide to come here,” said Elliott.

She also mentioned the importance of considering young people in this decision.

“We’ll all be dead, but they will be living in the future, and it’s up to us to create a future that is livable and sustainable for them,” Elliot said.

Woodfibre spokesperson Rebecca Scott expressed disappointment about the decision.

“At a time of great economic uncertainty, Woodfibre LNG will bring significant jobs, economic development, and tax revenue to the community. The direction taken by councillors today is deeply unfortunate for Squamish residents, especially those who are impacted by job losses and business closures. Now is not the time for winners and losers to be handpicked for our economy,” wrote Scott in an emailed statement.

“Today’s vote was not about [greenhouse gas] emissions or the environment. It was about a small group who have opposed this project for years in spite of scientific data that shows our facility will offset global emissions and help meet the most aggressive Paris Agreement target of keeping temperature rise to under two degrees.”

Khelsilem (Dustin Rivers), a councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, said last week that the band does not have a formal position on Woodfibre’s request for an extension on its environmental certificate.

However, a prominent member of the Nation, hereditary Chief Ian Campbell, wrote to municipal council and Woodfibre in support of the project. Campbell is a member of the Nation’s council but is not its leader.

A copy of the letter was provided to The Chief by Woodfibre.

“The Squamish Nation officially supports Woodfibre LNG, and [I] encourage you to not pass resolutions that could interfere with our environmental and economic interests related to the project,” wrote Campbell.

In 2018, the Squamish Nation council voted in a divided 8-6 decision in favour of an impact benefit agreement that would give land and cash payments to the Nation for any work required to complete the Woodfibre LNG project, including the Eagle Mountain Pipeline.

“During this time of global economic uncertainty, we continue to implore [District of Squamish] to adhere to the principles of [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] officially adopted by British Columbia, as well as the Calls to Action under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when making decisions that have adverse impact to our Aboriginal rights and title, and economic interests,” Campbell continued.

“Woodfibre will bring training, jobs,and investment to Squamish Nation and B.C. It will also bring millions of dollars to the region allowing us all to invest in our communities.

“In passing this motion, Council may compromise the opportunity for meaningful engagement with the Squamish Nation in building a sustainable economy, while protecting Howe Sound through proper management regimes.”

On the other hand, environmentalist group My Sea to Sky said that municipal council made the right move.

“The District of Squamish has demonstrated real climate leadership by highlighting the climate impacts of Woodfibre LNG, which will increase local greenhouse gas pollution by 142,100 tonnes of CO2-equivalent every year. That is 1.5 times the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire community of Squamish,” said Tracey Saxby, the executive director of the organization.

“This decision sends a clear message to the province that every individual, every business, and every industry needs to do their part to ensure we achieve the climate targets identified by the 2018 IPCC report.

“The world has changed since Woodfibre LNG first received their environmental assessment certificate in 2015. We need to critically reassess whether Woodfibre LNG should be granted an extension to their environmental assessment certificate given the changes to local, provincial, and federal policies; new and emerging scientific understanding; and the implications of developing new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate emergency.”

*Please note, this story has been updated since it was first posted, as more people were interviewed.

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