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Internal Documents: CAPP Hesitant to Admit Its Request for ‘Holistic’ Overhaul of Environmental Legislation that Influenced Omnibus

Postmedia's Mike De Souza reported today on a newly released internal document from Environment Canada that shows the federal government was concerned with the preference of Canada's largest oil and gas lobby body, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), when crafting last year's 2012 Omnibus budget bill that overhauled or eliminated some of the nation's most significant environmental laws.

A briefing document drafted for Environment Canada's associate deputy minister, Andrea Lyon, in preparation for a CAPP gala event in Alberta noted the lobby group's preference for a legislative overhaul, rather than a formal piecemeal examination of environmental laws in Parliament.

As De Souza explains, "the briefing scenario…suggested that oil and gas companies didn't want a series of separate legislative changes, but rather an 'omnibus' approach."

In email correspondence obtained by DeSmog, De Souza asked CAPP to declare the organization's position on the legislative changes.

CAPP's vice president Janet Annesley responded with this statement, suggesting the lobby body "did not express any opinion" on the process:

De Souza responded to Annesley's claim by producing the internal Environment Canada document, asking her to respond to the federal government's suggestion CAPP had "issues" with a case-by-case review of existing environmental legislation:

After reviewing the released internal document, Annesley suggested CAPP did in fact advocate for a "holistic review of regulatory legislation" but said the association "cannot speak to the government's specific choice of words."

The internal Environment Canada document released to De Souza through access to information legislation shows the federal department noted "CAPP has raised issues with the 'one-off' reviews of specific legislation such as CEAA and SARA and would rather have a more strategic omnibus legislative approach."

In 2012, the Harper government forced through a more than 400-page omnibus budget bill that included sweeping changes to Canada's environmental laws, including weakening water and species protections, eliminating thousands of environmental reviews for large industrial projects and minimizing public participation in review hearings on these projects.

That the federal government took the oil and gas industry's wishes to heart is no surprise given a number of related internal documents also released by De Souza.

One such document shows the federal government assuring the oil and gas and pipeline industry their interests were "top-of-mind" when considering the omnibus overhaul. The federal government even went so far as to ask for industry support for the changes, acknowledging the altered legislation would be "very controversial."

Other documents show the government taking a very different approach when engaging with First Nations who were told any rumours regarding changes to environmental laws were merely "speculative."

Environment Minister Peter Kent suggested the changes are improvements, telling Postmedia, "human nature does not easily accommodate any change or the prospect of change…When change does happen, there are often very legitimate concerns that develop until in the fullness of time, the changes that are made fulfill the commitment and the promise of those who made the changes."

Greenpeace Canada's Keith Stewart said "omnibus budget bills are tools to avoid public debate. I can understand why Big Oil wanted to hide their proposals to gut Canada's environmental laws from public scrutiny, but the government never should have taken that advice."

"A year later, we find out that the oil and gas industry not only got to dictate changes to Canada's environmental laws, but also the secretive way in which those changes were enacted," he told Postmedia.

Greenpeace Canada recently published an internal document that showed many of the changes brought about in the omnibus budget bill were explicitly requested by the oil and gas industry lobby.

The oil and gas industry went so far as to identify the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act as 'prohibitive' to industry pursuits.

Changes to the regulatory regime, stated several major oil, gas and pipeline lobby groups and companies in a letter to Ministers Peter Kent and Joe Oliver, needed to happen for the sake of both "economic growth and environmental performance."

Between 2008 and 2012, the federal government met with industry groups 463 percent more than environmental organizations, according to a report on lobbying records released by the Polaris Institute.

"Regulatory reform," the industry letter read, "was one of the principe challenges identified" by the energy industry, "and has been an ongoing priority for the sector as a whole."
 

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Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

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