Predictions for a new political era—trends for communities in 2006

This is the 5thand final bulletin in our 5 part series on the challenges and opportunitiesexpected to present themselves in BC over the coming year.

It is up to us to define our collective future.

In sharing our predictions about our potential futures, DogwoodInitiative’s underlying intention is to provide British Columbians theopportunity to visualize the paths that we collectively pave-either throughaction or passivity.

Destiny can only take youso far, to the point of mobilizing the forces of change. But these forces needdirection and leadership, as well as support and resources. Initiative isultimately found within oneself, but collaboration allows us to bepractitioners of making things happen.

The pillars ofsustainability are founded in the strength and empowerment of communities takingthe initiative, proudly protecting their health and prosperity and their future.

Our final forecasttakes a look at the opportunities and challenges facing communities in BC thisyear. Insights backed more by our understanding of BC’s resource issues than byfortune telling. Here’s a look at the possibility of blue skies and change inBC for 2006.

Community

We expect communities to take strong stands against unsustainable projects this year, continue the existing trend.

The well-worn, but false dichotomy, ofjobs-versus-environment is no longer defining the debate. Whether it is theproposals for new dams, roads, ski resorts, pipelines, power plants, powerlines, mines or coalbed methane projects, communities throughout BC willcontinue to protect their long-term interests.

All things coal

British Columbia has a lot of coal. And BC has big, powerfulcoal mining companies that have been very effective in influencing the policiesof the current government.

According to governmentestimates, there is over 20 billion tones of coal available for surface orshallow underground mining in the province. British Columbia has over 250 billion tones of coal depositswith potential for coalbed methane. Gordon Campbell’s government and theircorporate donors are salivating over two potential options for turning dirtyfossil fuel into shiny, crisp dollars. As a result, we expect coal-fired powerto join coalbed methane as a hot button issue this year.

Sure there is money tobe made, but at what price?

Coalbed methane

Coalbed methane will continueto be a hot button community issue this year. Over the last few years, theresidents of Fernie, Princeton, Cumberland, Courtenay, Hat Creek, Iskut, Telegraph Creekand Princeton, have all raised strong objections to coalbedmethane proposals near their communities. Unaddressed concerns about the lackof regulation, harm to wildlife, fragmented landscapes, noise, toxic producedwater and migrating gas that could leak into wells, outhouses and basements,have fueled this opposition.

With our help, the Union of BC Municipalities (the association representing municipalgovernments in BC) passed a resolution opposing coalbed methane developmentuntil certain conditions are met. Many municipal governments and regionalassociations have passed similar resolutions.

However, the provincialgovernment has ignored these calls and continues to promote coalbed methane,even though coalbed methane operations have never been shown to co-exist withhealthy environments and salmon populations.

Opposition to coalbedmethane will once again be high-profile in the coming year: hot spots being theeast Kootenays, Telkwa and Smithers in the northern interior, and the SacredHeadwaters of the Stikine, Skeena andNass in Tahltan territory.

In the SacredHeadwaters, Shell Canada is aggressively moving forward with exploration anddrilling plans in the fragile headwaters of three great river systems that arethe lifeblood of the region-the Nass, Skeena and Stikine. Shell, which has abad reputation for its human rights record in Nigeria and South America,is building “bad will” for the way they have handled the dispute.  The Tahltan are united in their opposition.Expect a major confrontation if Shell ignores local concerns and tries to moveback in and drill this year.

Shell is also thetarget of opposition in the east Kootenays. After backing away from its reputedinterest in drilling for coalbed methane in the flathead last year, because oflocal and international opposition, Shell is moving ahead with plans to drillfor coalbed methane on private lands owned by Elk Valley Coal Corporation. Itappears that Shell has backed away from previous commitments to engage in broadconsultation before proceeding with coalbed methane. We anticipate Shell’splans will generate much controversy this year.

Coal-fired power

Unlike every other Canadian province, BC isconsidering new coal-fired power plants. In fact, Ontario’s government has set a goal of phasing out coalby 2007, yet the BC government has promoted coal aggressively. The government’sEnergy Plan, released in November 2002, included a “policy action” specificallycreated “to allow for a fair evaluation of coal-fired electricity projects.

BC Hydro, the BCUtilities Commission, and the Oil and Gas Commission all use the Energy Planas a touchstone, a guiding document, thus they are considering various coalprojects.

Why this promotion of coal?

Well, because “Coal-fired electricitygeneration is currently an important source of electricity in other provinces,but not in B.C., despite large resources of cleaner thermal coal.

Oh, and coal companies are among the largestdonors to the provincial Liberal Party. Teck Cominco-the largest coal miner inthe province-is also the single largest corporate donor to the BC Liberals,having handed over $822,591 in donations between 1996 and 2004.  Fording Coal donated another $136,430 overthe same period.

Thus it was no surprise when in January 2003the government released new Coal-Fired Power Boiler Emission Guidelines,which set the least stringent requirements for emission from coal power of any jurisdictionsin North America. For example, Mercury, the most toxic ofemissions, is in the process of being regulated everywhere, yet it is omittedfrom the BC guidelines.

Why are the BC Liberal and the coalindustry promoting coal-fired generation?

As a result of having mined over 700million tones of coal, every coalmine has “refuse” coalwhich won’t be sold and has to be disposed of as waste. If a company canburn the waste in a “mine-mouth” generator, it disposes of therefuse, gets the fuel at essentially no cost, andgenerates electricity, an economic output.

So where will the coal hotspots occur?

In Princeton and the East Kootenays.

Compliance Energy isproposing to construct and operate a coal-fired thermal electric power plantnear Princeton, British Columbia. Dogwood Initiative and other groups, includinglocal Princeton residents, have called for an environmentalassessment before what would be BC’s first coal power plant proceeds. Compliance’scoal fired power plant would have automatically required an environmentalassessment, but in gutting the assessment legislati
on in 2002, the provincialLiberals raised the threshold for requiring assessments to 50 megawatt (Mw). ComplianceEnergy’s Princeton proposal squeaks under this threshold at 49 Mw,although at peak power it will generate more than 50 Mw.

We anticipate that coal-firedpower will also become an issue in the East Kootenays where Elk Valley Coal Corporation, apartnership of Fording Coal, Teck Cominco and Luscar Ltd. (half owned by OntarioTeachers’ Pension Fund) may soon be proposing what they call the BCHeartland Base Power Project, a 150 megawatt coal fired power plant. Togo forward, a submission must be made to B.C. Hydro by April 7, 2006.Collectively the partners in this project have donated $981,606 to theBC Liberals between 1996 and 2004.

Amazingly, Richard Neufeld, BC’sMinister of Energy and Mines, forecastthis proposal in April of 2003 when he said “We look forward toactually having Teck Cominco or whoever put forward a proposal for a coal-fired plant in the Elk Valley.

I guess big donors do have the ear ofLiberal Cabinet Ministers in Ottawa and in Victoria.

Although the East Kootenays is mining-friendly country, we expect strongopposition from a cross section of local residents. British Columbian justdon’t want coal power and don’t believe promises of clean coal technology. Infact, over 74% of British Columbians surveyed as a part of BC Hydro’s communityconsultations on BC energy policy opposed coal-fired generation. 

Given this broadopposition, why would the BC government be so supportive? I guess money talks.Regardless, expect coal issues to provide much political heat in 2006.

Community forests

The profile ofcommunity forests usually doesn’t rise until just before an election, when thegovernment of the day hands out a few small licenses as pork. The old adage”the squeaky wheel gets the grease” defines community forests in non-electionyears, since they are usually only offered to solve political problems. This isnot an election year provincially, so you should expect little progress on thegovernment’s commitment to double the volume under community management.

British Columbia’slogging regulations are written to facilitate large (now multi-national)corporations’ liquidation of large volumes of predominately old-growth timberfor manufacture into basic commodity products like pulp and 2 x 4’s, mostly forexport to the US.

Community forests, whichhave different objectives, are swimming upstream against a policy wave not verysympathetic to them. For community forestry to succeed, or to even prosper,this has to change.

There is some hope thatthis may prove to be the year for progress in leveling the playing field forcommunity forests. The BC Community ForestAssociation is currently in negotiations with the Ministry of Forests toaddress some of the more unjust policies. With luck, the Association may makesome progress. But it may take more aggressive political action-becoming asqueakier wheel-to create the political imperative needed.

Next January we willlook back and evaluate how accurate our sources, the prevailing winds, tea leqaves andcrystal ball were. Regardless 2006 should be an exciting year.

Click here for our predictions on Energy

Click here for our predictions on Forests

Click here for our predictions on Democracy

Click here for our predictions on Aboriginal issues

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Any thoughts, comments,critiques, or insights of your own are always appreciated here at the DogwoodInitiative. Promoting dialogue is imperative in creating community forces.

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