In reading the recent news reports on the September 27th, 2016 approval by the federal government of the Pacific Northwest Liquid Natural Gas plant and terminal near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, it would appear that no stakeholders were happy with the decision. In fact, many claim surprise if not outright shock over the terms set under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act Permit and much mention is made of the “190 conditions”.

But a careful review of the Permit, in light of the political and legal backdrop, yields few truly unanticipated terms and conditions:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits and Mitigation Efforts

British Columbia was the first province to introduce a conventional carbon tax on large emitters (such as a liquid natural gas plant). Under British Columbia’s Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act, there is an express mandate on large emitters to control and mitigate GHG emissions. There could be little surprise, therefore, when the Permit set a hard cap on plant emissions (at no more than a total of 4.3 million tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide per calendar year at full capacity), which is admittedly 20% lower than the proponent’s application request, but still feasible.

Further, the emissions mitigation requirements are also consistent with the mandate of the GGIRCA and faithfully include number of technically innovative standards which seek to ensure the plant has adopted many of the newest, and lower GHG-producing, processes. Given the size and novelty of this plant, Environment Canada cannot have done otherwise.

Other Approvals Needed, But Coordination Expected

The need for other approvals under at least 5 other legislative areas is anticipated in the Permit, perhaps giving the sense that the proponent may end up in a kind of regulatory shell game. But this is likely far from the reality.

The absence of a single approval body to coordinate all permitting for an environmentally-relevant activity (as is adopted under certain other regimes) should be overshadowed by the issuance of the Permit itself. The departments of Fisheries and Oceans, Transportation and the Prince Rupert Port Authority will all, no doubt, be cognizant of the political and legal watershed the Permit represents.

Aboriginal Participation – Environmental Monitor

Finally, the Permit contains First Nations consultation and other participation rights in respect of every environmental medium covered in the Permit, from marine and fisheries integrity, species protections and terrestrial habitat preservation.

More notably, there is an independent Environment Monitor to be appointed with the consent of Aboriginal and federal authorities with a mandate to confirm and report on environmental compliance regularly.

While some claim rights akin to co-determination should have been granted, the Permit terms are likely the most participatory ever granted for a project of this kind, and virtually all should have been anticipated by stakeholders in spite of media reports to the contrary.

The only surprise occasioned by the Permit is that the inevitable has taken so long to reach.