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Squamish council proposes climate emergency conditions be imposed on Woodfibre

Councillors were divided in a 4-3 vote that will be re-debated
Woodfibre LNG export facility at build out.
Rendering of the proposed Woodfibre LNG export facility at build out.

If all goes according to some councillors' plan, the District of Squamish will declare that the Woodfibre LNG project is not welcome unless it can meet greenhouse gas reduction requirements set out by the United Nations.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, set out targets to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

On May 12, council voted in a 4-3 decision to provide that feedback to B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, or EAO. The office 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, but the final say will still lie with the EAO.

Coun. Jenna Stoner brought the motion forward and was supported by Mayor Karen Elliott, and councillors Chris Pettingill and Armand Hurford.

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

This decision is not yet final, as it was made during a committee of the whole. It will have to undergo a final vote and approval at a special business meeting in the near future.

Those on council who supported the motion said it was consistent with the District's policies, namely, the climate emergency declared last year, which opts to bring the town’s emissions in line with the targets specified by the IPCC.

“We are well aware that our work on our climate change file is not just going to be led by the District, but it’s going to require every single one of us in our community — that’s individuals, corporate citizens — to start thinking and working in this direction,” said Stoner.

“And this is a clear message that Woodfibre is one of those businesses that will need to start working in this direction as well. It does not specifically preclude them from receiving an environmental certificate extension, it just means they have to have a plan in place. And I don’t think that that’s unreasonable to be asking of a company of this size.”

The dissenting councillors had rebuttals of their own.

Coun. Eric Andersen said the municipality’s recently-adopted climate action planhas already acknowledged heavy industry like Woodfibre is outside of the plan's scope.

“We’ve just gone through a community climate action plan exercise, and there were two elements in that, that the process couldn’t really do much about... for measurement and action plans,” said Andersen.

“And that is for highway commuting and Woodfibre. And there were others as well. But we did have that opportunity and forum to address these issues and I look at them the same.”

Too little notice was given, which didn't allow council and staff to check into the background facts that support the motion, Race said.

French wondered if these requirements were realistic.

Stoner replied the short notice for the motion was because deadlines for the EA process are tight, and council didn't receive a staff report until the day before. She also said it could be re-discussed at a future special business meeting.

A prominent local activist group applauded the decision.

“We are really pleased that the District of Squamish is raising the concerns about the climate impacts of Woodfibre LNG and how the District is going to meet their climate targets if this project goes ahead,” said Tracey Saxby of My Sea to Sky.

She said the decision to extend the EA certificate is dependent on taking into context new information that has arisen since the original certificate was first granted in 2015.

“It’s our position that we do not believe Woodfibre LNG should receive an extension to their environmental assessment certificate because of these changes in economic context, the changes to local, provincial and federal policies and a new and emerging scientific understanding,” said Saxby. “That includes the new information that was released in the IPCC report in 2018.”

On the other hand, the head of Woodfibre LNG said he was “surprised and disappointed” to read the resolution put forth by District council.

The company issued a written statement by its president, David Keane, who said Woodfibre has been an active member of the community for seven years and “has consistently gone above and beyond to engage with council and residents.”

“We all agree that climate change is an urgent global issue. That’s why we committed early on to reduce our emissions by 85% by using renewable electricity. We have recently received new data on our project’s climate change impact, which we look forward to sharing with the public soon. One figure we have learned is that the annual emissions offsets that will be achieved when our gas replaces coal in Asia will be equivalent to 76 years of Squamish’s emissions,” said Keane.

“Finally, at a time when families, businesses, and non-profits in the Sea to Sky region are hurting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodfibre is a project that holds the promise of hundreds of direct jobs, thousands of indirect jobs and millions of investment dollars into our community. We hope that council will consider these positive impacts when debating this resolution.”

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