Published in August, 2018
How regulation empowers eco activism while sidelining legitimate stakeholders
By Amanda Achtman
The latest controversies surrounding former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s involvement with the National Energy Board (NEB) underscore a deeper problem: the charade of consultations.
Companies and property owners alike are being forced to operate within a regulatory regime that treats landowners as government-mandated interest groups instead of business partners. The only "consultation" required should involve legitimate business offers made to landowners and their chosen representatives, such as Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA).
Across the East Coast, environmental propaganda posters adorn street posts and coffee shop bulletins boards. The anti-Energy East posters read: “Our Risk, Their Reward” and the affiliated website says “the Council of Canadians aims to stop these pipelines, calling instead for a national energy strategy and a transition off fossil fuels.”
Such limitless, Utopian visions are precisely what prevent constructive negotiations from taking place when regulatory boards, filled with no impartial spectators, replace market negotiations between true players. Since the environmental ideologues oppose industrial development in every respect, they are not focused on real-world principles like markets or property rights, but rather on fanciful “green” schemes.
Distinctions therefore need to be made between legitimate groups of proponents and opponents and paid activists, and between interested stakeholders and professional whiners.
We know that governments are not subject to proper market mechanisms since taxpayer subsidies are theoretically endless. On the other hand, private companies and citizens have real budgets and constraints, needing to negotiate properly and legally. Landowners and property owners have legitimate interests in pipeline projects. Environmental organizations can best promote the good of the environment by seeking to affirm the rights, freedoms and opportunities that exist for property owners to control their land, whether they are farmers, landowners or First Nations.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic provinces have the highest sales taxes in Canada and the largest public sector per capita. Many people are returning to the Maritimes from Fort McMurray after the oil downturn, the carbon-pricing NDP and the devastation of the wildfires. They would be prime candidates for jobs on pipeline projects such as Energy East. However, they are being denied these jobs since nearly all pipeline projects are being stifled or banned by politicians succumbing to the interests of ideological environmental organizations, often based in Toronto and Ottawa.
Ultimately, the current regulatory regime is threatening both property rights and the environment. On the one hand, landowner property rights have historically been suspended by the NEB to make takings for projects easier. On the other hand, the same regulatory body is partly responsible for the property rights of energy transport companies being suspended due to the politicized paralysis of the sector by environmentalist NGOs with their celebrity activists and lawyers.
More than ever, it is necessary to be wary of property rights arguments being usurped by environmentalist groups outright opposed to all pipeline development on ideological grounds. Nobody who commits criminal acts of tampering, vandalizing, trespassing, occupying and sabotaging pipelines can be taken seriously as a defender of the environment or land. Such criminals put First Nations, farmers, landowners, residents and workers at risk. There is no duty to “consult” them.
For the reasonable parties involved, there must be concrete standards and thresholds that outline adequate review processes and provide clear definitions of the specific conditions to be satisfied. Otherwise, there will be no end to the “consultations” which will, in the end, prove to have been all a masquerade, only serving to successfully stall business and, more importantly, prosperity.
Currently, we are seeing one of the most politically hostile situations to industrial development in ages. Big government political parties throughout Canada, new fervour for so-called “carbon pricing” schemes, and the ideological refusal to update and upgrade pipeline technology to be safer, more reliable and more environmentally efficient are the factors with which we all contend. It is clear that what we need is not more consultations, but better market mechanisms that uphold foremost both property rights and the rule of law.
Amanda Achtman is a CAEPLA contributor. She holds a BA in political science and is currently pursuing an MA in philosophy.
Published in PIPELINE OBSERVER - FALL 2017