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This article was published 11/4/2019 (560 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Whether you think Canada’s top priority is the environment or the economy, you should oppose the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). Take this "choose your own adventure" to find out why.
On Feb. 22, the National Energy Board finished its reconsideration report after a Federal Court of Appeal denied the project’s previous approval last summer. The federal government has since purchased the pipeline for $4.5 billion and the TMX will eventually cost approximately $7.4 billion. Cabinet has 90 days to respond to the report and decide whether to approve the project.
The board’s report recommends the project be approved and declares it is in the public interest of Canadians.
However, the report notes several "significant adverse effects" related to resident killer whales, Indigenous cultures, greenhouse gas emissions and even oil spills. The report justifies these harms by appealing to the "considerable benefits of the project," including access to markets, jobs, direct spending and considerable government revenues.
This means the report directly weighs economic benefits against environmental harms. Although the present federal government has consistently argued that we can protect the environment while still growing the economy, the TMX tests the government’s commitment to both.
Are you ready for your adventure? If you value the economy, choose path A. If you value the environment, choose path B.
The TMX is crucial for us to get our oil to international markets, which will bring economic benefits for Canadians across the country.
However, the report’s conclusion does not explicitly consider our long-term economic interests. Oil is a non-renewable resource, so the jobs and revenues created by the project will eventually run dry.
Instead, the government could invest in resources that reduce our carbon footprint while actually growing the economy. Low-carbon goods and services are worth more than $5.8 trillion globally and are expected to grow three per cent per year. It is estimated that Canada’s green building industry already supports 298,000 jobs and is worth $23.5 billion of Canada’s GDP. The revenues from such investments would continue to flow far into the future and would include more jobs to set up the new energy infrastructure, as well as jobs that would continue to employ people for decades.
Furthermore, the greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline would contribute significantly to climate change, which will destabilize the international economy. We are already dealing with these consequences and our children will live in a world where Canada’s economic prosperity is uncertain. Therefore, the economic benefits of the TMX as outlined in the energy board report do not go far enough to justify the project, even on economic grounds.
The conclusion of the report is disappointing. The board chose the economy over the environment, when Canada is already not going to meet our targets of the Paris Agreement.
However, the kinds of economic benefits detailed in the report are important for Canadians, especially Canadians working in the energy industry in Alberta and B.C. If the TMX is not approved, then many Canadians will be devastated by the loss of jobs and revenues and it is not fair for them to bear this economic burden in order to protect the environment.
Instead, why not make the economy work in tandem with our environmental goals by smoothly transitioning to renewable energy in order to ensure a prosperous future for Canadians?
If economists and environmentalists work together, then maybe we can arrive at a better solution than the TMX, a solution that actually lives up to the government’s promise to protect the environment and grow the economy.
Whether you chose path A or B, you have arrived at the same conclusion: the project is simply not justified by the energy board report for either environmental or economic reasons.
However, both sides of the issue have something to learn from each other about the TMX. If the government really values both the economy and environment, as they say they do, then cabinet will not approve this project. Thanks for playing.
Michael Montess is a PhD candidate in philosophy at York University in Toronto. Anna Cooper Reed is a social worker and a MSc/PhD transfer student at the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. Both are originally from Winnipeg.
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