HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2018
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Chuck Porter
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We’re going to call Estimates to order.
Resolution E7 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $37,516,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Environment, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We’re going to welcome the Minister of Environment to introduce his staff, if he wishes to do so, and begin with his opening comments. Sir, the floor is yours.
HON. IAIN RANKIN: I am pleased to present the details of this year’s budget for the Department of Environment. Here with me today at the table are Lorrie Roberts, Executive Director for Policy, and Weldon Myers, Director of Financial Services. I have some other staff behind me in the room if questions arise for their various respective divisions within the Department of Environment. Together, we will try to answer any questions you may have.
Mr. Chairman, our job at Nova Scotia Environment is to protect the environment, human health, and the welfare of farm animals. This is a very broad mandate, to say the least. We hold responsibility for 35 pieces of legislation and more than 80 sets of associated regulations. They include air quality, public health, conservation of wildlife, wetlands, land and water, and aquaculture.
On any given day, our 355 staff are working to ensure that the restaurants and cafeterias where Nova Scotians eat are serving safe food. They’re inspecting abattoirs and aquaculture sites, working to protect wildlife and protected areas, dealing with contaminated sites, and reviewing applications for environmental assessments or industrial approvals. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, our staff performed more that 22,400 inspections and audits and issued more than 55,000 enforcement actions. These included directives, warnings, compliance orders, summary offense tickets, and court cases.
Mr. Chairman, we are a very busy department. Our staff are dedicated, highly experienced, and committed to protecting the environment and human health. I would like to take a moment to recognize all that they do every day to support Nova Scotians and protect the environment, human health, and animal welfare.
As minister, I am very excited about the work we have under way this fiscal year. We have already begun work with the Public Prosecution Service to hire a dedicated prosecutor, who will specialize in cases that relate to our mandate. This includes the environment, food safety, public health, meat inspection, fisheries and aquaculture, animal welfare, natural resources, and the fur industry. As you know, Labour and Advanced Education has a dedicated prosecutor, and this model has worked extremely well there. We have worked closely in the past year with the public prosecution service to bring strong cases to court.
Not every case goes to court. Often, we work with businesses to help them come into compliance with the terms and conditions of their approvals. Sometimes a bit of education is all that’s necessary, but in some cases, a court case is necessary and appropriate to ensure that they are held to account. Where it’s appropriate, we will vigorously pursue people and companies that break the law and put the environment, human health, and animal welfare at risk.
Mr. Chairman, you may remember that under the Environmental Goals and Sustainability Prosperity Act, our province committed to protect at least 12 per cent of the province’s land by the end of the 2015 calendar year. Today, about 12.4 per cent of Nova Scotia’s lands are legally protected. We are moving now to determine which additional lands will be protected, moving us toward 13 per cent.
We know that protected areas play an important role in caring for nature by providing wildlife habitat, keeping wetlands and lakes in their natural condition, and maintaining natural processes and biodiversity. These areas are not just important for wildlife and plants. Studies suggest spending time in nature is good for both the body and mind. It helps us get more exercise and may reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
Protected areas are also good for economy. For example, a large number of businesses rely on our beautiful parks, wilderness areas and coastlines to promote Nova Scotia both nationally and internationally. Legal protection for these areas allows tourism businesses to make plans or invest in new experiences for visitors, all with the certainty that these protected spaces will remain natural for generations to come.
I understand that establishing protected areas can sometimes be controversial. When we are designating expanded or new protected areas, our staff work closely with staff at our partner departments and consult with Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq, municipalities, industry, community groups, non-governmental organizations, and other interested Nova Scotians. Our goal is a transparent, accessible, and fair process resulting in a system of protected areas that benefit nature and Nova Scotians.
We are privileged to live in a province with pristine lakes, beautiful forests and barrens, and extensive coastlines. By keeping parts of our province’s natural and protected areas, we are creating a lasting legacy that protects biodiversity and provides places for all of us to enjoy now and into the future.
Nova Scotians are excellent environmental stewards. Our disposal rate is half of the Canadian average. Our people believe in reducing, reusing, and recycling. We want to support them as they work to reduce our impact on the planet.
Last July, when China stopped accepting film plastics around the world for recycling, we began an important conversation about what we need to do next. I think many Nova Scotians were surprised to realize that so many municipalities, not just in Nova Scotia but across Canada and around the world, had been exporting our recyclable film plastics to China.
In early January, we granted a temporary exemption that allowed film plastic from Halifax Regional Municipality to temporarily be sent to a landfill in West Hants. This is a six-month exemption that will expire in July. It applies only to film plastic, including shopping bags, the wrap-around materials such as around toilet paper, paper towels, and water, pop, and juice bottles. It is important to note that other plastics and other recyclable materials are still banned from Nova Scotia landfills. Neither the province nor our municipalities want to put these materials in a landfill. Since January, many municipalities have found alternative markets for film plastic, including Halifax Regional Municipality.
Still, we all recognize that this is a larger problem that needs to be addressed. We have been working with the municipalities and with industry to determine how we can reduce our use of plastic bags and other plastic film. All options are on the table. I think that is true for all Nova Scotians. We all want to reduce our use of these products, and Nova Scotians have demonstrated a willingness to change their own personal practices to keep some of these materials from landfill. It’s not just about film plastic. We are actively looking at other ways we can reduce materials that go to our landfills.
Nova Scotia currently has extended producer responsibility programs for tires, paint, and some electronics. That means that consumers pay a small fee when they buy the product, and industry ensures that Nova Scotians can recycle those products at locations across the province. It has been very successful. We are open to extending our current extended producer responsibility model if it will help increase diversion. We will also be open to looking at waste energy solutions and exploring other possibilities that will keep waste from our landfills.
I am committed to making changes that municipalities can agree with that contain or reduce costs and help us to maintain and improve our status as a national leader in solid waste reduction. I’ll have more information on this topic to share with Nova Scotians in the coming months.
Flooding across the province in recent weeks has been a timely reminder that our climate is changing, not that we need to be reminded. We are seeing this now through changing weather patterns, more intense storms, and rising sea levels across the province. As scientists around the world have told us, the impacts of climate change will continue to affect our communities. The province, through the Departments of Environment and Municipal Affairs, is working with municipalities across the province to better understand the impacts of climate change and to identify strategies to adapt to these changes.
I would like to take a moment to thank municipalities for their excellent work on this topic. Nova Scotia is a national leader in fighting climate change. We have recognized the importance of this work by making climate change its own division within our department, and that division is doing great work.
We already have hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions from electricity. These caps require the electricity sector to reduce their emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020 and 55 per cent by 2030. I’m happy to report that these targets are being met. It’s part of the reason we are national leaders. As a province, we are committed to renewable energy. We have committed to 40 per cent renewable energy by 2020 through sources like wind, marine renewable energy, solar, biomass, and hydropower.
We are committed to supporting Nova Scotians as they work to improve energy efficiency in their homes and businesses. In December, the federal government announced $56 million to help support home energy efficiency programs through Efficiency Nova Scotia. This money comes from the Low Carbon Economy Fund and will allow Nova Scotians to install energy efficient products and do home retrofits. Not only will this type of program help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in the green economy, it will help Nova Scotians save money on their energy bills.
I’m proud to say that a recent report by the Auditors General of Canadian provinces and territories confirms that we have made significant strides to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Seven of the 12 provinces and territories don’t have targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Of those with targets, only two provinces are on track to meet them: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Here in Nova Scotia, we have already exceeded our 2020 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we have already met the national target of 30-per cent reductions below 2005 levels. Alone among provinces and territories, Nova Scotia has done a detailed government-wide assessment of the likely impacts and severity of climate change. We are committed to reviewing that assessment in 2019 as part of our review of the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act.
Mr. Chairman, you can see we have a lot to be proud of in this area. In the past year and in the coming year as well, our focus is on the design and implementation of a cap-and-trade program that will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians. Last Fall, we introduced legislation to create our cap-and-trade program. Our program will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions above and beyond the aggressive targets we were already planning to achieve while ensuring that Nova Scotians, as ratepayers and consumers, are protected. Our legislation is flexible to allow us to link with other programs in the future if that’s what is best for Nova Scotia and the legal framework to auction some allowances also if it is in the best interest for Nova Scotia to transition to a low-carbon economy.
Legislation enabled the program, but regulation is what will govern it. In February, we introduced our quantification reporting and verification regulations and standards that identify what types of companies must report, which emissions they must report, and how to do it. In the coming months, we plan to consult with Nova Scotians on the details of the program and expect to have regulations complete next fall. The cap-and-trade program will begin in January 2019.
We expect that about 20 companies will have to report their greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, we know that Nova Scotia Power, Northern Pulp, Lafarge, ExxonMobil, Imperial, Irving, Wilson’s, and Heritage Gas will meet our emissions thresholds and will need to report annually. Other companies may also need to report each year, and we’ll know after their reports are submitted. The first reports are due May 1st of this year and June in subsequent years. This is an important step for Nova Scotia and will help to build the foundation for the province to continue to be national leaders on climate change.
We are required by Ottawa to put a solution in place that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our cap-and-trade program is a made-in-Nova-Scotia solution to the challenge the federal government has set for us and is a complementary policy to our current strategies. We believe it’s the best solution that recognizes the significant investments and progress Nova Scotians have already made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We will be introducing more regulations in the Fall that will further define the program, and I look forward to sharing those with Nova Scotians.
Many Nova Scotians enjoy eating out. We all want to know that the food we order is safe to eat, and our 23 public health officers perform approximately 11,000 food-related inspections each year to help ensure just that. I think most Nova Scotians understand, though, that there are degrees of food safety risk in all of the establishments we inspect. A nursing home, a dining room, a hospital, or a daycare, for example, serves higher-risk clientele. Coffee shops or convenience stores serving pre-packaged snacks carry less risk.
With over 6,000 licensed establishments in the province and many opening and closing all the time, it is important that we ensure our staff are spending their time on the highest-risk facilities. This is how we will best protect Nova Scotians’ health. We will be making changes this year to our data system to make sure that our inspection frequency schedule reflects this focus.
The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act was originally passed in 2007. It set out 25 ambitious goals for our province, from solid waste to sustainable purchasing and renewable energy to water quality. A great deal of what we have accomplished, particularly in relation to greenhouse gas emissions, can be traced back to the focus provided by this piece of legislation. It has been 11 years since the Act passed, and it’s time for an update.
This year, we will work with the Minister’s Round Table on Environment and Sustainable Prosperity to renew and refocus the Act. We will consult with community groups and Nova Scotians to ensure their views are reflected in the renewed Act. I would like to thank the members of the round table for their work on the renewal of this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Chairman, as minister, I am committed to introducing legislation that will provide legal protection to Nova Scotia’s coastlines. Our coastlines are more than simply a beautiful backdrop to attract tourists. Fishing communities rely on them for their livelihoods, and they provide a habitat for many species of plant, wildlife, and marine life. We have done great research on this topic already. This year we will consult with a wide variety of interested Nova Scotians - from coastal communities to industry groups, environmental advocates, and others - to ensure our legislation is well informed and considers all the issues that are within our jurisdiction.
Last summer, I had the privilege of travelling to the department’s regional offices, located from one end of the province to the other. I met with a large number of our conservation officers across the province, along with other staff, during that trip. These are dedicated public servants who are highly committed to their work. Their days are spent dealing with the public, with parks, and with animal welfare. I am pleased to say that we have made and will be making some small changes that will improve their working lives. For example, we have been able to convert eight casual conservation officer positions into permanent ones. This was possible because of the expanding responsibility of these positions. This fiscal year, we’ll be able to replace the Boston Whaler that our central region staff used for fisheries and aquaculture inspections.
We are investing in a second phase of a new system called SNAP, which will allow us to better track food and safety inspections and notify staff when it is time to follow up. This is a significant capital investment.
This year promises to be a very exciting one for my department and for our staff. We will continue to be a leader in fighting climate change as we continue to implement our new cap-and-trade program. We will be consulting with Nova Scotians on the creation of a new coastal protection Act and on the renewal of our Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act.
We are a leader in solid waste reduction, and we will be continuing to make decisions that advance our leadership position. Nova Scotians care about protecting our air, land, and water. We do too. We use science and expert opinion to make decisions with environmental protection always at the forefront of our minds. We are optimistic about the year ahead.
Mr. Chairman, I would be happy now to take questions from the members.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
Mr. MacMaster, you have one hour. I will not interrupt you two unless I need to. Please have a conversation back and forth.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, minister. I am actually the Energy Critic, but I am doing Environment today.
Minister, I would like to start out by asking some questions around the cap-and-trade system and the potential for a federally imposed carbon tax on Nova Scotians. I’m going to start with this question. We have heard the federal minister make public comment that what Nova Scotia has done, which is what I believe our cap-and-trade system will be based on, which was accepted by the federal government of the equivalency agreement in 2012, is not going to count towards the federal government’s suggested actions and that the federal government will expect a carbon tax to be placed on Nova Scotians and any organizations or companies that are causing emissions in Nova Scotia.
I asked the Minister of Energy these questions. He said the government would be concerned until an agreement was actually in place. What does the minister have to say about that? Does he feel confident the federal government is going to accept the cap-and-trade solution proposed to avoid a carbon tax in Nova Scotia?
MR. RANKIN: As the member would probably know, we have limited options to comply with what they call the benchmark, set out in a paper that was released by the federal government. Essentially, there’s three options for all provinces. There is the carbon tax that you see in British Columbia, which is broad based. Another option is the hybrid system of a carbon levy - essentially a carbon tax - on fuels, and that would be combined with performance standards on big industry, such as you see in Alberta. The backstop, if you don’t put any system in, is that hybrid system that you see in Alberta.
The other option that we have elected to move forward with is a cap-and-trade program which you see in Quebec and Ontario currently. We have also modelled our legislation to be able to introduce a program in Nova Scotia that has very similar reporting structures and different aspects to the program that aligns with Quebec and Ontario’s program. We also intentionally made the legislation that was passed in the House so that, if at some time, we believe that linking the system, which is what Ontario and Quebec do, we can do that through our regulations. We can link with what they call WCI - the Western Climate Initiative - which includes those two provinces and California, basically at a time that would be appropriate based on the reporting thresholds and when that reporting year ends.
The other thing in the legislation which I will note allows us to give allowances and it also allows us to auction if that’s what we feel is in the best interest based on our analysis, based on our feedback from the consultations, which are ongoing. Currently, we have only passed one set of regulations which are quantification reporting and verification, which are the most important regulations to get passed, to allow us to get those metrics in, which we have, so that we can analyze to see where we can set our caps. That requires discussion back and forth with the federal government to make sure that we are setting caps that align with the benchmark. They have their numbers of what they align with the carbon tax starting at $10 a ton, moving up to $50 a ton in 2022.
Whatever program any province puts in place, the carbon price has to align with that benchmark. Having said that, I think most Nova Scotians would have realized that their power rates have gone up significantly, especially during the last government. That really is implicit carbon pricing in our power rates, because that fund is helping that transition to renewable energy.
When we signed the agreement in principle, we wanted to make sure that that investment that Nova Scotians have made would be recognized. We expect our caps to reflect that. In other words, the reduction of tons of greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t be as deep as if we had not taken that action. For obvious reasons, prior governments have relied on taking action in the electricity sector because it is the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions. We do have hard caps in our electricity sector in the province. We’re the only province that has those, and we felt that that should be recognized. I think it’s important to note that there really is an implicit price in our jurisdiction currently today, and a cap-and-trade program is another way of having an implicit carbon price.
What it does allow for is other industries to participate in that. Based on the federal carbon benchmark, we have the largest industries such as the ones I have mentioned - Lafarge and Northern Pulp. We have our fuel suppliers - I think if they import over 200 litres, they have to be in the system. We have our natural gas providers.
We have a number of participants that will be required to either reduce their emissions or pay for credits. We also have a system where we will distribute allowances. That methodology, if you will, how we distribute those allowances - we will need feedback from the federal government to ensure that the caps are set in the appropriate way and that we can distribute the allowances in the appropriate way so the system functions. The benefit of cap and trade, as opposed to a carbon tax or a carbon levy, is that it does tap into market forces. Wherever the lowest cost reductions are in the marketplace, through market forces, those would be the ones that would occur. An entity that was achieving those reductions would be able to sell those credits on the marketplace. That’s how the system generally works.
We do completely expect to meet the guidelines set out by the federal government, and we’re in continuous conversations with the federal government because we do need to have this system in place by January 2019. There is a lot of work to do, and there are decisions that have to be made along the way. To answer your question, we do expect to meet the benchmark so that we don’t have an explicit carbon tax imposed on us.
MR. MACMASTER: I do wish you success in convincing the federal minister that the actions that were taken in this province which have resulted in the higher power bills that we’re all paying - a 25-per cent increase in about three years, from 12 cents per kilowatt hour 15 cents - will be seen as our commitment to reducing emissions and moving towards other types of energy that are less carbon polluting.
I realize this is a hypothetical question, minister, and perhaps it’s not fair of me to ask. If the cap-and-trade system is not approved by the federal government, and if a carbon tax must be implemented, would the provincial government make that transparent so Nova Scotians could see the amount of carbon tax they’re paying and whatever good or service they’re purchasing?
MR. RANKIN: I am loath to get into theoretical exercises of what could happen, but the fact is, if it is a carbon tax, that would be explicit. You would see that on your bill as you do in other provinces. We’re confident in moving forward with our system, and we do intend to be transparent. We don’t want to speculate until we have certitude around what the impact will be.
In our next round of consultation, we intend to go out in late May or June to talk to our stakeholders that will be direct participants in the system. What I can say today is, we’re confident with this system that the direct impact on the end user - which I know the members want to know - will be less than what the impact is of a broad-based carbon tax.
We know based on our analysis that the impact for the carbon tax, which is not our intention, is from 4 cents to upwards of 12 cents a litre on fuels. I know the Opposition had tabled that analysis, based on a carbon tax, in the House. The system we are proposing will be a less of a cost than what you’ll see in other provinces. That is where we believe it is prudent to land given that we already have our hard caps in electricity. This will give an opportunity for businesses to try to find ways to reduce their emissions and trade on the marketplace.
At the end of the day, it is a carbon pricing system, and to abide by the federal guidelines, you do need a carbon price. This is the way jurisdictions across the globe are advancing their carbon mitigation strategies, with the exception of the President of the United States. You still see the states acting with their various carbon pricing systems. The northeastern states - I think there’s 12 or 14 of them working together, and they have a cap-and-trade system specific to their electricity sector. We are precluded from joining that because that wouldn’t help us comply with the federal government’s direction of including the other types of fuel emitters.
That just goes to show you that there are carbon pricing systems developed every day. Even the biggest economy in the world, China, is developing theirs. As I said, we have been aligning our legislation around the California, Quebec, and Ontario system. I have had the opportunity to talk with my counterparts in those jurisdictions to see how that work is going. We believe it’s a good system. I think by not doing anything, you’re allowing the federal government to impose their federal jurisdictions; other provinces have admitted that they could. They could impose a system if we weren’t ready for it.
We are ready. We have the first round of regulations, and we’ll be going to consultation in late Spring.
MR. MACMASTER: In what areas of our Nova Scotian economy will we see a reduction in demand for carbon-based polluting goods and services?
MR. RANKIN: Again, all jurisdictions have noted that they need to transition from a carbon-intensive economy. That transition doesn’t happen overnight. There is no cost that you could put on consumers today that would stop them from putting fuel in their gas tank. We don’t have electric cars, but that is a transition that is occurring across the country and across the globe.
Companies have recognized this. Close to 100 of the major companies in the world are pricing carbon into their business plans, essentially imposing an internal carbon price on themselves. What this does is, it goes further than relying on normal human social behaviour when they get into their car. They do want to reduce their carbon footprint, but would they think about that every time they turn on their car? Perhaps not. Would they think about it when the alternatives are increasingly more available on lower-carbon sources? As fuel costs are priced, that does have an impact on behaviour, similar to taxes you see on other products that government wouldn’t want to promote, like cigarettes or alcohol.
Again, this is something that is a phenomenon across the globe, and for Nova Scotia to participate in a way that makes sense and that minimizes the cost to consumers, we felt that cap and trade was the best way to do that. We will continue to have fuel in this province for decades. We will continue to have coal as a source of power. It’s still 56 per cent of our power source. We can’t turn that off overnight. What we’re moving forward with is aligned with other jurisdictions, and that is ensuring that we are protecting the citizens, particularly low-income citizens who need to have that transition period and need alternative available resources for fuel and for transportation.
Governments need to start investing more and more in infrastructure that allows for more active modes of transportation. That’s why we have funds like the Connect2 fund in Energy, to promote that type of sustainable modes of moving around and connecting communities.
The Province of Nova Scotia does have a lot of rural population, as you know. We need to make sure that we’re looking at all aspects, but we recognize we do need to transition into that lower carbon economy because it is good for the environment. I think all members of the House recognize that.
MR. MACMASTER: The reason I asked the question is I presume the goal is to reduce carbon pollution. If the plan is to work, somebody is going to get hurt by it, I presume. Cap and trade may be the answer because maybe it satisfies the federal government without hurting anybody in the province. Maybe that’s the case.
I can just speak for my own area. When I think about the areas of the economy in Inverness that are important, I think tourism. People are flying here, and people are driving here, putting out all kinds of pollution to come here, but that’s important for our economy. I think it’s actually good for people to travel. It’s good for their minds. It is going to cause pollution. I think about the fishing industry, which is such a huge part of our economy, lobster and crab fishing. There are no boats that run on solar panels yet, so again, more pollution there, but necessary. I think about farming and all of the pollution in farming, the use of fossil fuels. People say we eat food. Somebody told me about a year ago that we actually eat fossil fuels because our food requires fossil fuels to be produced through agriculture.
Those are just three areas of our local economy that, when I hear talk of a carbon tax, I get concerned about. I think that could immediately affect our economy, how we compete with the world. I think, on a much more personal level, about people who are just driving to work in the province. We don’t have public transportation of any great significance outside of the urban areas of the province. That’s why I’m asking that question. I will take some comfort in the response that there are no areas of the economy that can expect to see a reduced demand for goods and services.
This is hypothetical because maybe it won’t happen. If a carbon tax or the cap-and-trade plan, which is to be implemented in its place, does have an impact on Nova Scotian industry, will our target be lowered?
I think of Port Hawkesbury Paper. It uses upwards of 10 per cent of the energy in the province. It has been exporting paper since the 1960s and brought tremendous wealth into our region of the province. Until recently, it survived on its own accord. I know back in - I should remember the year, it was certainly important at the time when the mill almost closed. I know they received significant support from the government at that time. Up until that point in time, that mill carried its own weight and brought a lot of wealth to the area.
If Port Hawkesbury Paper decides - because of increased energy costs due to a carbon tax or this cap-and-trade plan - that they’re no longer competitive in Nova Scotia and leaves, there will be a 10-per cent energy reduction in the province because we don’t need to be producing that much energy, and there’s less pollution associated with that decreased energy production. Will our emissions targets be lowered for what we are required to be responsive to, with respect to a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system?
MR. RANKIN: To be clear, we don’t have our target yet for 2030, which is mandated by the federal government. We have hit the target that they have said provinces have to meet already. We are recognized, along with New Brunswick, for hitting that in 2015. We have hit 30 per cent below the 2005 levels. We are discussing what our target should be for 2030. If you look at business as usual, we are on pace already to be at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels.
With cap and trade, we will be setting caps that will allow for further reductions. The cap-and-trade system, or any carbon price - you can’t just isolate the program in itself and not consider the totality of government policy and what the private sector has been doing and achieving that would contribute to a greener economy or a lower-carbon economy.
The federal program, the Low Carbon Economy Fund - which Energy is playing the leadership role on, as I noted - was expanded for our efficiency programs with Nova Scotians who use oil to heat their homes. They can actually tap into that funding that the federal government has put in, and we have put in some to allow that program to expand. We are actually a leader in the country on how we look at the demand side of electricity. The efficiency gains that are made in those areas actually help reduce power bills for businesses and for Nova Scotians.
Just getting back to the impact on people who are driving and industries, it takes a long period of time to change human behaviour and even government policy, which really comes from what the population wants to see happen. We have opportunities now by agreeing with the federal government’s program and putting one in place that we believe is in the best interests of Nova Scotia to tap into federal funds.
Any funds that we happen to raise through cap and trade are directed at a green fund that was set up in legislation. It doesn’t go into general revenue. It doesn’t go into the general coffers of the provincial government. That money will be used for potential programs that may enable transition to happen quicker, such as potentially for electric-type vehicles. They are cost-prohibitive right now for many people. The infrastructure isn’t in place in Nova Scotia to allow that behaviour change to happen as quickly as in other places.
Suffice to say that there are other opportunities to have complementary policies that would enable that. The price of solar has come down significantly over the last decade. We don’t have solar panels on buildings as much as you see in some European countries. We are doing pretty good with wind. We have, I think, the second highest as a percentage of wind in the country after PEI. We have great opportunities with tidal and potentially more opportunities other than just the energy source if we were to become a leader - manufacturing jobs, like Denmark has been able to do with the wind source.
It is a gradual change, but the way you incent human behaviour is to recognize that there is a cost to pollution. If you don’t put a cost on that pollution - which we are implicitly doing through our power rates - then that behaviour change will not happen. There are studies at prominent universities that show that the real cost of carbon is well above what any jurisdiction is charging.
When you think of the costs of a community experiencing draught or significant floods, as we have seen in places like Cape Breton, those costs are borne by the government. We have to expect, at some point in time, that government will be able to recoup some of that cost that pollution is putting up into the air. Carbon is one of the biggest sources, but there are other sources. Methane is even stronger.
That is to say that we think we can be part of that. We will do it in a balanced way, and we will work with our federal cousins to make sure that we are aligned with their strategy so that we can capitalize on any funding and make sure that we are doing it in a responsible way, a way that Nova Scotians are on side with.
MR. MACMASTER: Maybe I’ll ask the question another way. We are looking at moving towards a new target for 2030. God forbid it should happen, but if a company like Port Hawkesbury Paper was to go out of business, and there was a significant reduction in demand for electricity in the province, would the government count that reduction in emissions that would be associated with that towards the goal for 2030? Or would it remove that, recognizing that while it is a reduction in emissions, it’s not really a reduction based on any effort of the province?
It’s the chance or the result, perhaps, of a cap-and-trade system on a company like that. It’s not really a success in that we have lost industry, and that’s what’s going to be responsible for a reduction in emissions in that case.
MR. RANKIN: To be candid, it is an absolute measurement of what your emission reduction is. The reduction has partially been because of investment in renewable energies, but we did have mills close, and that was part of why the greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced.
We always have the opportunity to look at the targets and adjust them downward or upward based on where our economy is going. There are opportunities that are there that could present a new LNG plant into the province. That would have significant upward pressure on our emissions. We need to make sure we’re looking at what types of energy supplies are available to the province. We will finally have hydro through Muskrat Falls. Before that, we didn’t have the access that other governments in central Canada and throughout have had, that low-cost renewable energy available to them. We expect that we will, and that will certainly allow us to hit our renewable energy targets. That is part of the discussion. It is a big part of our emissions, but it’s not the only part of our emissions.
To answer your question, we can address targets, but when you’re looking at the greenhouse gas emission reductions, they are absolute. If we lose or gain an industry, it is counted in the overall macro figure that’s reported.
MR. MACMASTER: I’m just wondering, has the government quantified the actual amount of carbon that we will be reducing by?
MR. RANKIN: This is a challenge because this is the discussion that’s occurring currently with our federal government. That is where the caps will be set, essentially. We know that we are expected to be reducing them incrementally more than we would be without a cap-and-trade system, without any carbon pricing system. We can’t just rely on business as usual, even though we have hard caps in our electricity sector.
We are expected to reduce; I can’t quantify. It would speculative for me to choose and arbitrary number of tons that we’re going to be reducing, but it is declining caps. In 2019 we’ll have a cap, and in 2020 we’ll have a cap that’s lower, and it will continue to go down.
I do want to point out again that the nimbleness in our legislation allows options, should we get a new entrant or if there are external factors happening in the market place. If there are credits available in another jurisdiction, and it makes sense for us to allow a linking opportunity, then we have that ability within current legislation to do that. It’s going to be an active file, no question, for the next year and as we develop the program. Unfortunately, I don’t have the numbers that I know you’re looking for today. We will be sharing them in advance of when we’re operating on day one, when the cap-and-trade program is launched, and we will be forthright with those numbers.
MR. MACMASTER: The next question I have is, for companies that are going over their emissions allowances, and this goes beyond carbon to things like mercury, are there any examples of companies that have had to pay penalties for emissions? How much have those penalties been? Who has levied those penalties?
MR. RANKIN: With respect to carbon, there will be fines if they’re not compliant, and they go over their threshold. The other types of emissions that we have are under the Environment Goals and Sustainability Act, which was updated in 2012 under the NDP government, and has declining caps.
You mentioned mercury, and that is one of them. We do have a program in the province that enables a type of offset. We have thermometers and different materials that have mercury in them. It’s in the public interest that those materials are disposed of in a safe manner. Nova Scotia Power has a program where they get credits for receiving these materials and disposing of them in a safe manner so that they don’t end up in landfills and subsequently leach out and things like that. Because of coal, Nova Scotia Power is the emitter that would go over the threshold on mercury. That’s the program in place for mercury.
There are other emissions that do have caps. I don’t know which legislation to quote, to be honest, but my understanding is there are fines and consequences if you go over the cap, and there’s no offset program. We will be exploring options for offsets, whether it’s from the agriculture industry or other industries such as forestry. I say that because I know they exist in other jurisdictions. Those types of offsets might help industry comply.
I do want to say that we take it seriously whenever there are exceedances. That’s the whole reason why we feel the cap-and-trade system is a benefit, because they have opportunities to trade. If they can’t reduce their emissions, then they will be purchasing credit. Therefore, that is the carbon price. That’s the impact that the carbon price has on the market.
MR. MACMASTER: Minister, could you perhaps table information related to anybody who has been charged with an infraction over the past year and how much they have been charged?
MR. RANKIN: Yes, we can do that.
MR. MACMASTER: Is there anyone under the proposed cap-and-trade program that will benefit from the trading of emission allowances?
MR. RANKIN: It’s a bit early to speculate. We don’t have our methodology confirmed on how allowances will be distributed. We do know based on history that Nova Scotia Power has been able to reduce their emissions by transitioning to cleaner sources of energy. I would expect that they will have opportunities if they invest in areas where they can reduce their emissions. They would be one that would come to mind that should be able to find ways to make reductions and be able to sell them on the marketplace.
For other companies, it would be purely speculative without having a history of knowing where they have been able to make reductions. We will be receiving all of the reporting in May, and that reporting will be verified in September of this year by a third party so that we know where the benchmark is essentially, what emissions are status quo. We will have better confidence in who will be making reductions and who will be electing to purchase the credits on the marketplace.
Our allowance distribution will help enable the industries that are known as energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries, such as cement and pulp and paper, which you referenced. Typically in all cap-and-trade systems that are live today, those industries receive allowances to mitigate against any loss or what they refer to as slippage of carbon emissions. Essentially, if they move to another jurisdiction, there’s no reduction. It’s the same amount of carbon entering the air.
That’s why we will be diligent in monitoring how the system operates. There are compliance periods that we’re aligning with other jurisdictions. We will receive feedback from other jurisdictions as we move forward with the program.
MR. MACMASTER: But the emissions - will they be traded within the province? Are they limited to trading within the province?
MR. RANKIN: Currently, our plan moving forward on day one is to have an internal system of trading. I won’t guarantee that that’s what will happen because markets change, as you know. If we see an opportunity that would have a benefit overall within the balance of considerations, then we do have that opportunity to link. That’s why that’s in the legislation. We are going to be using the exact system that the WCI already uses. It’s a credible system. Even British Columbia is a board member of their program, even though they use a carbon tax, just because they wanted to align with how the quantification and reporting mechanisms are working.
There are other governments - going back to President Obama’s campaign, he advocated a cap-and-trade system. Things could change very easily, and we could see a whole country like the United States under a trading system. We need to be nimble, watching governments change in different jurisdictions and ensuring the balanced approach which is that we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We intend to continue to be a leader, but we also intend to ensure that we’re looking after the best interest of Nova Scotians, in terms of what they’re paying at the pump and what they’re paying in electricity prices and ensuring our industries remain competitive.
MR. MACMASTER: One thing that concerns me is that with a system like this, when you consider somebody who might be selling fuel for people to drive their cars, they will be transferring wealth to a company that has nothing to do with generating emissions because they will potentially be able to participate in this world of trading of credits. You will have a transfer of wealth to that company, even though that company is not emitting anything in first place. Is that how this is supposed to work?
MR. RANKIN: I would say that we have safeguards in place. As you know, there’s the Utility and Review Board, which would be the independent body that reviews any application from a utility. They would have to present a case for any change in power rates. We believe that they will not be able to keep credits as a profit, essentially. We will be monitoring to ensure that that doesn’t happen. There are other pressures in terms of their own fuel costs that they’ll have to look at as they put together their plan. They’ll have to meet targets that are already in place today as well, and there’s cost to that. There’s cost to improving their infrastructure that they’ll have to ensure that they’re keeping up.
We do have safeguards in the system itself today. It will be a small system relative to places like Ontario, Quebec, and California. There are also benefits to that, in ensuring that we can monitor literally every trade that occurs in the system. We’ll be ready, and we’ll be ensuring that we have those types of risks that you rightly identify - we have talked about all the different ways that companies could look at their own reductions and how they distribute credits. I referenced Nova Scotia Power being able to reduce because they have a history of reducing their emissions. We won’t know what opportunities they have that present themselves to make those types of reductions and how cost effective they would be on the market until the market is actually operating.
MR. MACMASTER: What about the information that companies will be required to collect and report on their emissions? Is that something that the Department of Environment would be making public in an open and transparent manner? If so, in how much detail, and what would it look like?
MR. RANKIN: The reporting is already taking place with most entities that I referenced through the federal government. They have reporting requirements based on a certain threshold. I think they have 50,000 tons and are moving to 10,000 tons as a minimum. Our reporting is requiring reporting for 50,000 tons and above.
In terms of transparency, we will be making the system as transparent as we can - in fact, I think I tabled a report in the House on what’s happening with the system. We can’t give the reporting of the emissions from our fuel suppliers, for example, for competitive reasons. Their competitors - and there are only so many in Nova Scotia - would essentially be able to figure out what their competitor’s supplies are.
To answer your question, we will be transparent with everything we can, from a legal perspective, but there are limitations in terms of what we can provide.
MR. MACMASTER: Has the Department of Environment considered the impact? I guess you are still looking at 2030 targets to finalize them. Have you considered the impact those targets will have on energy pricing in the province?
MR. RANKIN: We have hit the target that we need to hit, so this isn’t really a concern for us. We will be setting a target that is more ambitious because we know our cap-and-trade system will be able to achieve more incrementally.
As we transition to lower carbon-intensive fuels, we know there are opportunities with cap and trade to hold rates where they are. You can speak to the Minister of Energy on this, but we have passed legislation that limits the increases to 1.5 per cent per year, I believe, which has essentially stabilized rates. Actually, 2015 rates went down slightly.
I think we’re doing a pretty good job in terms of balancing the impact to consumers and ensuring that we are remaining the leader. Nova Scotians do care about the environment and the air. When you reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are ways you can do it from the demand side, which I referenced - the efficiency programs - and opportunities that present themselves through renewable energies. Solar energy is coming down, so we may have an opportunity to further invest in that. We do have our opportunities through tidal, as well, and the spinoffs that could happen from promoting an industry such as that.
Again, we are not concerned about hitting our target. Whatever we set will be the most ambitious target in the federation. We are already on track to hit over 40 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. There are externalities that we have to keep our eye on, and there are our own internal economic shifts that could raise some questions in terms of which direction we’re going in. We do have to abide by the benchmark the federal government has set forth. That does require - and we are intending to make them - further reductions than what is considered business as usual, which is what we are achieving today with our hard caps on electricity.
Essentially we’re looking at other sectors, how other sectors reduce. Currently, our strategy is almost solely on the electricity sector, which does take up the most emissions. We still have the transportation sector, and we have our industries that we believe have opportunities to reduce their emissions as well.
MR. MACMASTER: When can we expect to see the regulations for the new cap-and-trade system?
MR. RANKIN: All regulations should be in place by the fall. We have the most important set right now - the QRV regulations. We will have their emissions reporting verified by September. Prior to the Fall, you will see some information that relates to the impact and where the caps are.
Those are important pieces of information. I am actually looking forward to that because I think it will provide a good juxtaposition of the strategies across the country in terms of what a carbon tax impact would be. If we took the hands-off approach and allowed the federal government to move in and impose a carbon tax, and you compare that to the cap and trade system that we will be moving forward with, I think that will be a benefit to Nova Scotians to know.
MR. MACMASTER: Will we also know at that time if the federal government is satisfied with the cap-and-trade system?
MR. RANKIN: I don’t know if they have set a date when they would highlight if they would be satisfied or not. We are in ongoing discussions, probably on a weekly basis, in our climate change division just to set these caps. We don’t intend to move forward with a program that they aren’t in agreement with.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, I have a note - we should know by October if they’re happy.
MR. RANKIN: By October, good to know. That will be very important, yes.
MR. MACMASTER: I’m going to move now to some boards the Department of Environment has that have some vacancies. There is an environment and sustainable prosperity board which has the potential for 15 members. Can the minister explain why the board is currently short nine members?
MR. RANKIN: There are some positions that will need to be renewed, and we are looking at that. I think it’s a very important cross-section of membership that has a good representation of industry and, simultaneously, representation from environmental advocates. The university is there, and UNSM is there. I see a lot of value in it.
One of the things I noticed in the short time that I have been at the department is a lack of diversity. I have communicated through the team that I want to revitalize the membership of the group. We will be actually putting our best efforts forward online and through various means to find representation from the Mi’kmaq community and the African Nova Scotian community and to achieve better gender balances, the three directions that I gave staff.
We are going to be renewing most of the members because I did see that we needed some continuation of the efforts they put forward. There’s two things to that. I wanted more diversity, but I also recognized that there was significant work that was put in by the existing team up to this point in terms of where they saw EGSPA going next. There are some great ideas they put forward in terms of how we move forward that legislation, and I want them to be part of owning the next steps.
We’re working on how that Act can be reinvigorated. We do want to continue to have good representation from environment and industry, but I think there is merit to exploring further diversity in the group. That would be my answer in terms of why we haven’t automatically renewed the full membership of 15 people, because we do want more membership. I’m sure the members would agree with the merits of that.
MR. MACMASTER: What about the Environmental Assessment Review Panel? There are four positions, and all four are vacant. Is there an intention to eliminate that board?
MR. RANKIN: That committee is not a standing committee. It’s a committee that’s put in place to review environmental assessments that are of a Class 2 nature. When there is a project that is registered that meets the requirements for Class 2, that’s when we would appoint people to that panel.
MR. MACMASTER: If I may, minister, are those specific to particular assessments? For instance, we hear about the project in Pictou associated with the mill and the activity there, a request for a Class 2 assessment. Would a board like that be put together specific to a case like that when it is called for?
MR. RANKIN: Essentially, yes, it is. The Pictou case is Class 1, but things can change in terms of what information is provided in the application. The minister has discretion to go down a different path based on the information that’s provided.
MR. MACMASTER: The next board I had here was an On-site Services Advisory Board. There are five vacancies on a board of nine. Can the minister comment on that one?
MR. RANKIN: We’re reviewing that specific board, and the members of the board know that. I can’t go further than that.
MR. MACMASTER: You just want five members on that board?
MR. RANKIN: The whole structure of the way the board is governed and operated is under review.
MR. MACMASTER: The next board is the Resource Recovery Fund Board. It’s supposed to consist of three members. I think there was an attempt to appoint somebody recently, but they hadn’t been properly vetted, so that appointment couldn’t go forward. Can the minister comment on that board?
MR. RANKIN: I wasn’t aware, but there were two members put forward for that board, and the HR Committee approved one of the two. I’ll have to find out where the complications were on the other proposed member. If that member doesn’t work out, we’ll have to find another one.
MR. MACMASTER: Fair enough.
I have a series of questions now. I know the goal of the Department of Environment is to protect the environment, but it’s also to make what’s happening in the province be responsible to the environment, protect the environment, and also to make the environment conducive to innovation and economic development. Can the minister offer some comments on what innovation his department is planning to pursue in the coming year based on the budget before us?
MR. RANKIN: In terms of the budget, our budget didn’t move up or down. We invested a half million this year to move forward on the capital side with SNAP, which is the next phase. We will be able to put our approvals and notifications and things like that online. That’s significant, to have that opportunity for businesses to see that as well. The second part of SNAP will include animal welfare and food and things like that.
Where we’re really going to be able to achieve better innovation is the renewed mandate that we’re looking to move forward with for EGSPA. The round table has rightly pointed out that the original EGSPA focused almost entirely on specific goals and not as much on the sustainability of economic development.
We are going to be looking at ways that we can have a focus on spurring innovation, growing the green economy, and making it across government. It’s not just the Department of Environment that has to look at this but also Agriculture, Municipal Affairs, Energy - all different departments and what strategies they have. We are also, within our mandate, looking at being less prescriptive on approvals and looking at ways that we can induce innovation by having notifications on certain types of aspects, if they are low risk.
As you rightly pointed out, that balance is what we always try to achieve, ensuring that we’re protecting the environment and human health but also driving innovation. Higher-risk activities will continuously need to have strict approvals and processes for the environmental assessment of their industrial approval, but where we can look at the lower-risk activities, we are trying to do that. I mentioned food safety. We are shifting our strategies to be in the higher-risk areas like daycares and long-term care facilities rather than having to continuously do visits to lower-risk areas such as convenience stores, which are mostly packaged foods.
That’s kind of it, on a macro level. The paradigm, if you will, in the department is to shift our resources to higher-risk areas. Those entities and operators across the province that have a good record and are engaging in activities that may not need red tape in their way, we will gladly get out of the way and ensure that they are able to move forward with their companies.
It’s hard to point to specifics, but I think a good opportunity is the EGSPA exercise, which the Tory Government had brought forward, and the NDP Government had amended. I think that is a good opportunity. I would certainly take suggestions and ideas from either Opposition Party and work with the round table on industry and environmental groups on how we find that critical balance of moving forward with a lower carbon economy that induces innovation and puts Nova Scotia on the leading path.
MR. MACMASTER: Are there any specific regulatory changes that are being worked on by the department right now that would support innovation in Nova Scotia while protecting the environment?
MR. RANKIN: We are always looking at this. Waste energy - I briefly mentioned, in the discussion around plastics, that there was a change recently in the last couple of years that distinguished what incineration was and what waste energy is. Plasmic acidification is the technology. A group is looking at possible further regulation changes that would further enable them to have access to materials that we ban from landfills. Nova Scotia has the longest list of materials that cannot go in landfills. Currently, those types of materials also cannot be treated through a plasmic acidification.
We are open to discussing what that might look like, a regulatory change, but also making sure that we protect our solid waste strategy, which has been around since the 1990s. That strategy really has enabled the province to meet EGSPA targets and have high diversion rates. Over 50 per cent of waste is diverted from landfills. We want to make sure that we are recycling and respecting the hierarchy of where our materials go in terms of reduce, reuse, recycle. The fourth aspect of that really is the waste energy potential, so we are interested in that.
We are also interested in making sure that we have, as I said, that focus on risk. If there are companies that find that a regulation is in their way, we are certainly open to that discussion. The CFIB has continuously rated us higher and higher every time they do their report card on where the province is in reducing red tape. We are one of the departments that, as a regulatory body, would be interested in working with companies and industry. But at no time will we sacrifice our primary mandate, which is protecting the environment and human health.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the PC caucus has expired for this hour.
I will now recognize, for the NDP caucus, Ms. Zann.
MS. LENORE ZANN: In your earliest comments, at the very beginning of this session, minister, you mentioned that electricity prices went up under the last government. Are you saying that the Nova Scotia Government sets the prices? What did you mean by that exactly?
MR. RANKIN: Under the last government, which is the period of time I was referencing, from 2009 to 2013, electricity rates have been rising incrementally over time, and it was under the watch of the NDP government. That was a comment based on the question of where rates were expected to go under our government. As I mentioned, rates and the balance of considerations have been stabilized, but also, we have been able to continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I think we can do both, simultaneously, but it does take a balanced approach.
There were some good initiatives under the NDP Government. I think that increasing the capacity for wind in the system is a good thing and it does help us reach our target both for renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I have spoken in the House before on the advantages when you’re diversifying the different ways you can get energy. I think solar was a missed opportunity during that exercise when there was a feed-in tariff given because solar has reduced in price significantly. In the balance, I think that a lot of low-income Nova Scotians did feel that increase, and a lot of that was because of the high feed-in tariff that was put in place to attract investment from wind development . . .
MS. ZANN: Actually the question was, were you saying that the government set the rates of electricity, that it is up to the government to set the rates of electricity? Or did you mean that rates were going up for whatever reason?
MR. RANKIN: It is not government directly, but government sets policy that does have an impact on where rates go.
MS. ZANN: The other thing I wanted to ask you about that is - first of all, before I say that, I want to say that I have been receiving messages through various means from my constituents who are really upset. They say that the rates of electricity have jumped enormously in the last year, and they are not sure why. Some of them have said that Nova Scotia Power has come in and put in new things that tell what their rate is on the outside of their houses, a new way of doing it. They say that it has jumped by at least a third. Also, did you mention that in 2015 the rates jumped as well?
MR. RANKIN: I mentioned that in 2015, rates actually went down.
MS. ZANN: They went down in 2015. Since then, have they also gone up? This is what my constituents are telling me.
MR. RANKIN: I can certainly say they haven’t gone up by 33 per cent. I would like to do some tabling of that information.
I know we’re getting into the electricity rates, but the legislation that was tabled was to stabilize rates to an increase of 1 per cent or 1.5 per cent per year over the next three years, and that was put in place in 2016. I spoke in favour of that because we have to recognize that we can do both: balance the considerations of reduction of greenhouse gas and protect these Nova Scotians who are having a challenging time in businesses with the their power.
MS. ZANN: Absolutely, I totally agree. I also wanted to mention that part of the plan under the last government, the NDP Government, was putting a large emphasis on Efficiency Nova Scotia - how that would help us with our greenhouse gas levels and also how it would help to stabilize things for Nova Scotians. When this government came in, they tried to do away with Efficiency Nova Scotia, but then for whatever reason - I guess they realized they were doing a very good job.
I would have to say that it is because of Efficiency Nova Scotia that we are finding ourselves in a position where this government can have leisure of choosing whatever ways and means, since we have already met our targets largely due to Efficiency Nova Scotia, which was put in by the last government and totally supported. I think that is a very good win and a winning strategy there.
My question is, since we did so well with Efficiency Nova Scotia, why would you choose to do cap and trade when, in fact, you could continue along that path and progress even further without having to do cap and trade. Many people from environmental groups - for instance, green economy groups like the Ecology Action Centre - believe that the cap-and-trade system, as it has been described, will not be effective at reducing greenhouse gases and will not be equitable in its impact on low- and middle-income Nova Scotians.
Would the government consider possibly auctioning off the first set of credits at a price in order to generate revenue to be used to offset costs to low- and middle-income Nova Scotians and invest in our transition to a green economy? That’s two questions. Why choose that one? If you are going to choose that one, what about an idea like this?
MR. RANKIN: First of all, I do support the work that Efficiency Nova Scotia has been doing, and I think that’s a good example of government policy that does have an impact. We have been able to take advantage of $56 million from the federal government, and put in some of our own, to expand their programs into homes that have oil heat. Nova Scotians have, as percentage, more people living in homes that are heated from oil than any other province, so that is a good move forward.
In terms of cap and trade, I’m surprised - based on not knowing what the whole program, what the caps are, and what our distributing methodology will be - that anyone would have an opinion on it. We don’t have the program set up. We have our reporting threshold set. We know generally who will be reporting and who will be participating in the system. But we have not precluded being able to auction - it’s in the legislation. If we believe, once we have our caps set, that auctioning a percentage is the best way to ensure liquidity or other considerations in the market, we . . .
MS. ZANN: I’m sorry. Did you say you have not precluded?
MR. RANKIN: We haven’t made a full decision. That’s why it’s in the legislation that you didn’t support. In the legislation, we have the option of linking with other jurisdictions. We have the option of auctioning and setting allowances. Every jurisdiction does have allowances.
I would remind the member that the federal NDP has been running on a cap-and-trade system since 2008 . . .
MS. ZANN: One quick question. Sorry, minister, but I have to say something.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would ask the honourable member to afford the minister the same opportunity that the chairman is affording you to ask your question and he to answer. The honourable minister has the floor. He can continue to answer the two questions that you asked initially. Once he is done, I’ll come back to you.
MR. RANKIN: I’ll just conclude by saying we can’t rely on Efficiency Nova Scotia to meet the benchmark. We have three black and white choices: carbon tax, carbon levy hybrid system, or cap and trade. Cap and trade is the lowest cost that we’ll be able to abide by the benchmark. Cap and trade has been supported by the federal NDP for multiple elections. If the member wants to learn more about how that system works, I would gladly supply some information for her.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Zann.
MS. ZANN: We are not the federal NDP. We are the provincial NDP. We have other ideas here.
As I said, there are concerns from many environmental groups, including the Ecology Action Centre, that the cap-and-trade system, as it has been described so far, will not be effective at reducing greenhouse gases and will not be equitable in its impact on low- and middle-income Nova Scotians. That was the point I wanted to make there. Yes, you had other choices, but you also had a choice to do more with Efficiency Nova Scotia, making efficiencies and keeping going on the road we had already started.
Also, there are people who have forest lots who would like to be able to use them as carbon offsets. Have you considered that at all?
MR. RANKIN: Yes. Again, we’re very early in the process. The program launches in 2019. We have our first set of reporting, which is an important part, so that we can set our baselines, so we know where we can set our caps, so we can talk to the federal government. We do have opportunities to have offset and allowances.
I would ask the member and these groups that are jumping ahead and forming a conclusion on how the system will function to participate in the consultation and see how the program develops. I would challenge any Opposition member to say what system that they would go for. Efficiency is not completely aligned with the benchmark. You need to choose some kind of carbon-pricing system. That is clear. The federal government will impose one.
In effect, by saying that you wouldn’t choose one, you are basically saying that the federal government would come in and impose a system that would have an impact of 4 cents to 12 cents a litre on fuel. If that is your position, I just think that that should be a little bit clearer. Or just say you don’t believe in carbon pricing so that the public understands what your viewpoint is.
MS. ZANN: Actually, I am the one who is asking the questions here, not the minister.
I do have to say, we have hit the 40-per cent mark already. We had hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions, and we have already hit them. I would say that if we were continuing on, we would actually have gone farther, much farther than what this system would be doing. I’m sure that the federal government would be very pleased with our movement on that . . .
MR. RANKIN: That would just be electricity. If I could, that’s the electricity sector alone. They are saying that you need to have your other fuels . . .
MS. ZANN: I understand. Yes.
MR. RANKIN: Any other intensive industry has to have a carbon pricing system.
MS. ZANN: Sure, I understand.
The other thing was we also put into place the agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador, the deal that was signed to have hydroelectricity. That is in order to stabilize rates for Nova Scotians. The plan is to have them stabilized for 35 years, once the gates are open and it’s working. Do you have any update on how that is going, yourself?
MR. RANKIN: On Muskrat Falls? No, I don’t. I’m not the Minister of Energy.
MS. ZANN: I know. I just wondered if you have any dates for us. That will also help out greenhouse gas emissions, and it will give us a whole lot of opportunity for clean energy. I’m sure the Minister of Environment would be interested in that, as well.
MR. RANKIN: We are on track to meet our renewal energy targets. It is based in large part because of the hydro access that we will have through that link.
MS. ZANN: Is that part of what you are including in your figures going forward for being able to meet the standards?
MR. RANKIN: Yes.
MS. ZANN: When is that supposed to start? When would you start being able to count those?
MR. RANKIN: Whenever the project is operational, and we are bringing power in. I loathe to pick a date out of the air. I think that question is best asked to the Minister of Energy.
MS. ZANN: I just thought that since you’re quantifying when your figures will be working for the clean energy and clean air here in Nova Scotia, that would be factored in, so you might have an actual date that you are considering.
MR. RANKIN: It’s on track. We are talking about a 2030 target. We know that the project will be well under way. When we hit our 2030 target, which we have already hit - when we get to the 2030 level, the impacts of what we’ll be able to achieve through that project will obviously be part of where our reductions go. Cap and trade with have further reductions.
MS. ZANN: Some groups have also indicated that a cap-and-trade system, which seems to be going ahead, would work better if it was actually linked with other jurisdictions. The government has signaled that it doesn’t intend to do that. Why not?
MR. RANKIN: I think it is important, when we start the program, to have some control and ensure that we are seeing the greenhouse gas reduction happen within the province. It will ensure that we meet out target. When you are linking, there is some uncertainty of where those measurements of greenhouse gas reductions are occurring. That was noted in the Auditor General’s Report with regard to Ontario and Quebec because they traded with California.
Having said that, it’s in legislation so it’s an opportunity that we can easily go with if our analysis shows that it is in the best interests of Nova Scotians. If we have a new LNG plant or another energy-intensive industry come in, and we have declining caps - they are absolute caps, they can’t move up. If we’re able to find credits in another jurisdiction like California, Ontario, or Quebec, that may be in the best interests of Nova Scotia. It may improve our liquidity in the market.
We have set it up so that we are actually using their system, called CITSS. We are able to actually track our emissions with the exact same system, and we have a funding agreement with those people. We use the same legal advice from those jurisdictions. Our legislation and everything is set up so that we could do that at any time. We have to make sure that we’re moving forward with what is truly in the best interests, and both linking and auctioning will remain to be options for us.
MS. ZANN: Speaking of the liquified natural gas, can you update us on the state of the Bear Head LNG project at Point Tupper and the Pieridae Energy LNG project at Goldboro? Also, I would like to have an update on the Alton Gas situation. Can you give me an update on those three, please?
MR. RANKIN: As a regulator, we are involved in approvals for those types of projects. I don’t have any updates other than what you would read in the news in terms of the propensity of them to be able to invest in a project here. I can tell you that there is an environmental assessment approved for that LNG plant.
MS. ZANN: Which one, Bear Head or Pieridae?
MR. RANKIN: For both. Both are in place. They were approved before I was in the department. Again, that would be in the mandate of Energy if they want to speak to potential project in Nova Scotia. Our interest is in the approval process, which they have done.
In regard to Alton, they also have an environmental assessment and industrial approval. That industrial approval is under review, and I can’t extrapolate any more than that. It’s under review.
MS. ZANN: That’s under review by your department?
MR. RANKIN: Yes, that is.
MS. ZANN: Has that been postponed for a year? I had heard or read that it was postponed for a year.
MR. RANKIN: I received that information the same way you did. I saw it on the news that it has been postponed for a year.
MS. ZANN: You haven’t received anything from them in writing to your department?
MR. RANKIN: I have not. No.
MS. ZANN: That’s surprising, isn’t it?
MR. RANKIN: They have our provincial approvals, but there is the decision by the court for the minister to look at the consultation relative to the Warner report. That’s what I am doing, and I can’t expand on it.
MS. ZANN: How will the cap-and-trade system impact those LNG projects?
MR. RANKIN: They will have a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, so they will be a mandatory participant. We expect they will be well above the threshold required. They’ll have a carbon price, or they’ll be able to trade on the market. Consistent with other participants in the system, they may start with a certain amount of allowances. Please keep in mind allowances that are given out are all underneath the cap that is set.
MS. ZANN: You’re saying we don’t know exactly yet impact they’ll have on Nova Scotia greenhouse gas emissions or how much they will be?
MR. RANKIN: I would be speculating. I’m sure it’ll be a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
MS. ZANN: Which they would then have to trade.
MR. RANKIN: They would have to purchase credits once their allowances are gone.
MS. ZANN: Will we still be able to meet the legislated greenhouse gas reductions then? Some critics have said that one single facility could emit more than two pulp mills combined and increase Nova Scotia’s 2022 greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent.
MR. RANKIN: We’re in a theoretical box for some of these questions. I won’t speculate on the increase that they would have, but the economy is not static - it moves. I know two mills went under prior to our government coming in. Economic activity goes both ways. We may have an increase in one area, and we may have a decrease in another area.
We may have a good result from the efficiency work we were speaking about and the other funds that we’re going to be able through the Low Carbon Economy Fund. Are we going to be able to expand solar? Are we going to be able to incentivize more electric movement in the transportation sector? There are other opportunities that will help mitigate any new entrant. Of course, I do realize that a new LNG plant would add greenhouse gas emissions. There’s no question.
MS. ZANN: Critics have also said that when all the processes are accounted for, liquified natural gas is not actually cleaner than coal. Do you or your department have an opinion on that?
MR. RANKIN: I would say that there is a federal government initiative that includes phasing out of coal, and they don’t have an initiative that is similar with regard to natural gas. Coal has more than just greenhouse gas, and so does natural gas. We have committed to reducing our reliance on coal. I think you can have that discussion but also balance what other opportunities are coming forth in the province. We don’t have access to natural gas in the way that other jurisdictions do, Western provinces in particular.
Our transition away from coal has been a little bit more challenging than some of the other provinces. We still have 56 per cent reliance on coal, but we are moving in the right direction. It used to be 80 per cent not too long ago. In terms of the comparison, I wouldn’t want to make a direct comparison. I think it would be a challenge to do so. You would have to look at literally every part of what comes out of coal, whether it’s mercury, sulphur, or all these different things which we have caps for, and compare that to the impact of gas.
I think a responsible government would see that there has to be a transition period, recognizing that we will continue to use coal. We have to be going in that direction. I think a certain number of decades from now, people will be surprised that we even use coal to begin with. Whether it’s better or worse, I would suspect you would get conflicting opinions from different people.
MS. ZANN: Do you know how many jobs each one of the LNGs will actually create and how much revenue the province expects to get from each project?
MR. RANKIN: No, I don’t have that information.
MS. ZANN: Some of the decline in greenhouse gas emissions is because Nova Scotia’s economy has actually been growing very slowly. Some companies that were big emitters, as we were talking about earlier, have shut down. It seems like some of our good news for the environment is based on bad news for the economy. Does the department know exactly how much of our emissions reductions are due to economic issues rather than our environmental policies?
MR. RANKIN: We don’t have a breakdown. You have elucidated on how efficiency programs work, and that has obviously had an impact, and other provinces have modeled a similar type of program. Twenty-six per cent of our energy grid is renewable energies. That’s obviously a transition. When you go from 80 per cent coal down to 56 per cent, that reduces your greenhouse gas emissions. When you lose an industry, that will also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.
Again, either way, the total amount that you have will be measured just like that. You have to consider new businesses and businesses that leave. We have seen positive signs that our economy is coming around. More young people are staying in the province now. It’s the first time since 1990. There are signs that our exports are growing, and we are now leading the country. Our tourism sector is doing very well.
The opportunities through EGSPA - again, if we look at those goals and revitalizing how we are going to move forward on a sustainable path promoting the greener economy, there are lots of opportunities. I think the province can be a partner.
Look at different companies like CarbonCure and some others that have come out with great innovations that capture carbon and actually find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs in the province. I think we can do a better job of quantifying where that green economy is and ensuring that we’re tapping into that and setting policy that can actually drive that growth.
There is no specific breakdown because we would have to monitor daily which businesses are coming in and which businesses are leaving. Obviously, there is an impact. The record on Nova Scotia is more than just industries coming or going. It is investing in cleaner energy, investing in efficiency programs, those types of private sector initiatives. It all is a combination, a cumulative effect, at the end of the day.
MS. ZANN: I have had concerns - and I know a lot of other people in Nova Scotia have had concerns too - that the Department of Environment now takes too narrow an approach to the regulatory role.
The new federal environmental assessment rules are moving from a narrow focus on minimizing negative environmental effects to a boarder framework of sustainability. I think that is really important when we are going to be talking about protecting our environment, which is what this department is really supposed to be doing. A more holistic approach would include assessing how projects contribute to or mitigate climate change, long-term economic sustainability, and reconciliation with indigenous peoples - how we can take that into account more.
I have also heard, to be honest, that a lot of people feel that the Department of Environment’s job now seems to be making it easier for industry to do what they want to do as opposed to actually protecting the environment. How can your department approach regulatory decision-making in a more holistic way that takes responsibility for promoting and coordinating our transition to a truly green economy?
MR. RANKIN: We do take the regulatory role we have seriously. It has expanded under our government. It becomes even more important because much of it is centralized. We have taken on responsibilities that were under Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, DNR, and Health and Wellness. You have to take those things seriously. It’s not just high-level verbiage coming from the department. Yes, we had to put regulations in place for safe body art. I think that’s important for safety. We have to have other regulations to promote that safety. We are not isolated into that regulatory role.
As I have said, we are bringing in an act that will protect our coastlines. We are working with different groups, and the Ecology Action Centre is one of them, in terms of protecting that coastline, ensuring that we have a horizontal and vertical buffer around the province that will help adapt to climate change.
There are tremendous opportunities, I have noticed. Through the Environmental Goals and Sustainability Act, we can help renew what direction, from a policy perspective, that government’s going in - not just government, not just the Department of Environment, because it does take a collective effort across all departments.
The AG report has noted that Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction that has an adaptation plan that goes across government departments. We do have an action plan for climate change from 2009; I think it was under the NDP Government. We’re committed to renewing that and seeing what that looks like.
There is a lot more that goes on. We’re going to continue to look at the protected lands piece. We’re working on the next batch that would go in, subject to Cabinet approval, which areas of the province have the highest value of biodiversity in flora and fauna and protecting the ecosystems that link our province.
There is value, even from an economic perspective, because the economy and protecting the environment can and should go together. In tourism, we have been able to beat the numbers every year. We have been continuously achieving the record numbers. Part of that is related to our scenery and these parks and how well motels and hotels do along the Cabot Trail and different areas. They often look at vast lands that are protected. There is value, and it’s in our mandate to ensure that we go towards that 13-per cent level.
There’s target one initiatives and different aspects from the federal government that we’re working through to see how that mandate can be enriched and modernized, in terms of how our protected lands work. They have recently protected coastline water areas that may fit in well with the strategy around our ecotourism opportunities that are out there.
There is a lot of work that happens, and the staff at Environment are very passionate about protecting the environment, but we do need economic growth in this province. We do need to have some funding that helps some of these companies prosper if they can do so in a sustainable way. There’s groups that are doing great work, like Clean Nova Scotia, working with businesses and getting young people involved. They have youth internships that leverage private sector money, and 30-some per cent of those youth are from First Nations, Mi’kmaq, communities. I went out to see all them, and that’s fantastic work. How can we expand on those opportunities?
I could go further. I would say that the regulatory piece is important, but it’s certainly not by any means all that the department is undertaking. I think this year, you’ll see a few good initiatives that hopefully you’ll support and provide feedback on.
MS. ZANN: I look forward to that. I have a few suggestions of my own.
I have been talking to First Nations chiefs - including in Millbrook First Nation with Chief Gloade and Chief Terrance Paul - about the fact that we do have a large demographic of First Nations young people. As you are probably well aware, I have been quite outspoken and a person who has complained bitterly about the glyphosate spraying that’s going on in the province in our woods and forests and also the clear-cutting.
I have to say that I believe in silviculture. I have talked to a lot of silviculturalists who have made their professions at that. They tell me that they are all at retirement age now, and that there’s very few coming up the ladder. They said a particular part of the problem is they just don’t get paid very well. It hasn’t kept up with the times.
At one meeting, I heard the forest industry association ask, why would we want to spend $4,000 hiring people to go into the forest when it costs only $400 for a can of spray? I’m of the opinion that we should spend the $4,000 on hiring the people to do it without the concern about glyphosate, whether it is possibly carcinogenic or not or killing all the hardwoods and taking away the food for the little animals and creatures and whatever. In fact, if we put money into training young First Nations people who would be interested in going out into the forests and doing silviculture for us and keeping forests in a sustainable manner, I think that would be a win-win situation for Nova Scotia.
That is a suggestion I have made to the Chiefs. It’s something that perhaps you might like to follow up on. As we know, many of our First Nations people care deeply about the forests. They care deeply about the land. They were the protectors, the guardians, for many generations. A lot of them are very upset about the glyphosate spraying and the clear-cutting. If we could bring up a whole new generation of young people who are trained and getting paid well to go out into the forest and do it properly, I think that would be a wonderful coup for Nova Scotia. I think we could become a poster child for many other provinces. That’s just an idea that I would like to share with you.
The federal government has suggested that there are recent changes now to the federal environmental assessment policies that are going to impact Nova Scotia. Are you worried about the recent changes to the federal environmental assessment policies and the provincial environmental assessment process and how this is going to affect it? The federal government is talking about a one project, one assessment principle to avoid duplication of assessments between the province and Canada. In particular, are you worried that the federal government might delegate assessment responsibilities to the province without providing adequate resources for the province to carry out the increased responsibilities?
MR. RANKIN: We’re working with them now. We’re early in the process in terms of what our involvement is. I don’t know of any indication that we would be taking on more in terms of the approvals. If we were, we would have to review our resources and see how that would impact our ability, our competency level.
When we do environmental assessments, we engage with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to get feedback in areas where they have those confidences currently. I would just say that collaboration on these matters is important. We want to continue to ensure that we do have that level of collaboration.
Our environmental assessment process is one that I do have confidence in. There are different levers that can be utilized in advance of a project before it’s registered. I understand that the federal government is interested in ensuring more confidence in the system. The way I understand it, it’s so that, before they even apply and make a project, they have some level of knowledge of whether it’s a viable project or not.
They also are very concerned, rightly so, about the consultation with First Nations. If that can be improved, I would certainly support that.
MS. ZANN: I would like us to move on. Mr. Chairman, how much longer have I got?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 22 minutes.
MS. ZANN: If I have 22 minutes, then I actually want to ask a little bit more about that. It has come to the public’s attention that the Department of Natural Resources is not really doing an adequate job assessing our forest before giving clear-cutting approvals and not adequately enforcing the old growth forest policy. Does your department have any role in trying to enforce those standards?
MR. RANKIN: Currently, our main interaction with forestry would be around water courses and wetlands and those types of things. We are anticipating the report from Professor Lahey - senior managers in the Department of Environment and I met with him early on and talked about some of the things that we see with the industry. We’re hoping that that report will come back and have some good feedback so that the industry can move forward in a sustainable manner.
MS. ZANN: Does it concern you personally that there is old growth forest that is just going to the biomass generator?
MR. RANKIN: I don’t know the facts around that particular cut. I did make enquiries around biomass. I do know that the last data they had showed was that the vast majority of what’s going into that biomass is in fact, waste wood, which is what it is supposed to be taking in. I know that in the must-run, when it was running all the time, there was a greater propensity to put in wood that wasn’t waste wood. There was a higher percentage of material that was not waste wood but hardwood going into that biomass until the change happened. I think it was a positive thing to stop the must-run on the apparatus. They use natural gas and other material as well.
It is a complex file. We go on what the international standards are, what is classified as biomass renewable fuel, and it does meet that criteria. Our department’s perspective on that is that it does fit within renewable energy. I know that not everyone would agree with that. I think that it is something that should be evaluated ongoing. If we do have other renewable energy coming in, do we need to continue to use that? I do think we should ensure that the most material going in, if not all, is waste wood.
MS. ZANN: Yes, I completely agree with you. When I lived in British Columbia, I took part in an event where we had just discovered that the old growth forest in British Columbia was being torn down and decimated for those papers that go into everybody’s door. What do you call those, the rags that people read or don’t read, and then they throw them out?
MR. RANKIN: Flyers?
MS. ZANN: Flyers, yes. They were tearing down the old growth forest in British Columbia and turning them into those flyers that go into everybody’s mailbox - in the United States. It wasn’t even in Canada. We did put a stop to that, but it’s very annoying when you think of a beautiful old - sometimes 1,000 years old - tree just being turned into garbage. For what reason?
Do you happen to know, or does your staff happen to be in the know about whether the total acres that were clear-cut on Crown lands increased in 2017, and by how much?
MR. RANKIN: We don’t know that. That would be under DNR.
MS. ZANN: You don’t keep those kinds of figures. That’s Natural Resources?
MR. RANKIN: No, maybe that will come out in the report though, that there should be that kind of collaboration.
MS. ZANN: I would like to move on to - I’m sure you’ll be really happy about this one - quarries. Many Nova Scotians that I talk to are extremely worried, upset, and ticked off about the high number of quarries in the province. I’m told there are 12,000 quarries in Nova Scotia, and there are approximately 22,000 kilometres of roads. What people are telling me is that there is a huge problem here in this province with quarry creep.
Since quarries under four hectares don’t require an environmental assessment, many companies start a quarry under four hectares. They ask for permission, it’s basically rubber-stamped, and they get it. Because it has to be under four hectares, they ask for 3.99 hectares. That is 10 acres, so it’s still quite a large amount of land. They ask for the 3.99 hectares, 10 acres. Once they get that and start digging without any kind of environmental assessment whatsoever, after that they apply to expand it. At that point, there is an environmental assessment, but it has been pointed out to me that by then, the baseline conditions have already been destroyed by the smaller quarry, so it’s impossible to judge the impact of what a larger quarry will actually do to the area. Community members feel that the expansion is often rubber-stamped. Most of them have been approved except two, I believe - one of which was in the Premier’s own area - right before the last election. Is this a concern for your department?
MR. RANKIN: When quarries are approved, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are operating every day, all the time. Some of them would go dormant for months, if not years. There’s not more quarries for business, put it that way. The quarries are operating based on demand for aggregate, and there’s only a certain amount of travel that they would do to be economical on any given job site; I think it’s around 50 kilometres. You see quarries and asphalt plants and pits of that nature close to areas where there is road work to be done.
MS. ZANN: I’m sorry - did you say 50 or 15?
MR. RANKIN: It’s about 50 kilometres, give or take. Anything beyond that, it’s likely not as economical for them to travel that far. So wherever you see quarries, there is activity and aggregate required for Nova Scotians to drive on safe roads.
There is a requirement for this material. The risk associated with it is not aligned with what the perceived risk is in communities. There are strict approvals that all quarries go through. The threshold you reference - the 3.99-hectare quarries still go through a rigorous industrial approval. No aggregate extraction is permitted below the water table. There is monitoring for surface water. We do have strict parameters around any operating pits or quarries, and they are regulated.
Because they don’t go through environmental assessment, it doesn’t mean they have free rein to conduct whatever activity they want. We do monitor terms and conditions that are put forth by the industrial approval they receive.
An environmental assessment is a more lengthy process and does involve more resources for a company. Often you would see a company go in and develop a smaller footprint because there is some uncertainty involved in whether or not there is aggregate there or enough aggregate that it is economical for them. If they are able to operate in that quarry and they find enough aggregate, then you do see them expand further. They have to make a decision on whether or not it’s worth the time investment to go through the environmental assessment process.
Often you do see quarries start with a smaller footprint and build outwards as they find more aggregate. That’s a normal process, but there is an approval for them and it’s done at the staff level. I don’t have information with me on which ones were approved and which ones weren’t. Those that are approved have strong terms and conditions associated with them.
There are community liaison committees set up so the community can have feedback with the operator. Any other information that is brought up, we work with different departments like DNR if there are species that are of concern in the area. If there are migratory birds, we look at the patterns of those different types of species, and the impact on flora and fauna. It is a lengthy process, and quarries are essentially needed if we want to have safe roads in the province.
MS. ZANN: I heard a lot of information there, basically coming from the perspective of the companies doing this work. But when you talk to the people who live in the areas, and I have gone out and met with them in several areas, they are upset. They are beside themselves. They know those community liaisons are there, but they say they are useless, that they don’t listen. They say that because they start off with 3.99 hectares, which does not need an environmental assessment, they are missing all kinds of opportunities to find the fact that there are species at risk, that there are species in danger.
They say that the trucks going up and down the road are driving everybody crazy - the dust that it creates, the fact that it puts their houses down to a lower value, the fact that it puts their houses down to a lower value. It drives them crazy with the sound all night long. The roads aren’t safe for the children to play. They’re concerned about rivers and the lakes in the area.
One case just recently is Glenholme and Little Dyke. There are folks in Little Dyke and Glenholme who are beside themselves. The quarry is an Irving-owned one at 3.99 hectares, then they found out they wanted to go to 25 acres. They are very, very concerned about the beautiful Little Dyke Lake, the Little Dyke River, and their wells.
Some people who live out there actually used to live in Shubenacadie, Stewiacke, the Alton area, where they were going to put the Alton Gas caverns. They were so concerned and upset about it that they were driven out of there, and they bought a place in Little Dyke. Now they’re dealing with this quarry situation.
People say that they really would like to have the department put in place, and enforce, an opportunity whereby quarry pits have to do an environmental assessment, even up to four hectares. They say it’s not fair, and it’s not right. Even the Auditor General has said that this government is not doing enough when it comes to endangered species and species at risk. In Glenholme, they are all really upset and scared to death about their water, the beautiful pristine lake and river there, and their wells.
The residents in Fall River contacted me because they weren’t happy about the quarry plan there. They said that they were concerned it was going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Sure enough, there are five quarries already within a 20-kilometre area of Fall River. Now they’re being told that they want to enlarge it to a 40-hectare quarry.
There are now even more concerns that wells will be impacted by blasting. Water systems may be contaminated by acid rock drainage, which could kill river life and impact drinking water. The residents are reporting to me that wetland habitats have already been destroyed by the activities around the quarry and that blasting is happening very close to a natural gas pipeline.
Given all of these concerns, don’t you think a more rigorous assessment should be done before that quarry proceeds and before other quarries proceed in the first place?
MR. RANKIN: Again, my answer is that there is an approval process. They do go through a rigorous industrial approval that has terms and conditions. Our inspectors are out in the field. We conduct about 22,000 inspections each year. They are active. We do see a strong level of compliance with our quarries. The terms and conditions are generally followed, and if they’re not, action is taken.
We do take it seriously. There are setbacks that protect areas of interest. There are parameters that have to be followed to ensure they’re not interfering with species at risk or migratory patterns of birds. In some instances, they do have to set up - you referenced a berm or some kind of material that would block dust or things of that nature.
I do believe that the risk that the member is highlighting is not in line with the actual risk of the activity of a quarry or a pit. If there is more than one quarry in an area, and there’s activity there, that’s because there is work and paving that needs to be done in that area. You can’t have it both ways. If you want . . .
MS. ZANN: Five quarries within 20 kilometres, minister.
MR. RANKIN: If you want paving in this province, then you need to find aggregate somewhere . . .
MS. ZANN: Five quarries within 20 kilometres. You said 50 kilometres . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable minister has the floor.
MS. ZANN: I’m interrupting him, sorry.
MR. RANKIN: We’re undertaking significant capital work, which we don’t apologize for. We’re twinning highways, we’re repairing roads - we’re doing a lot of work that Nova Scotians have been asking for, and that aggregate has to come from somewhere. We will continuously look at applications based on the evidence that is before us. We work with DNR to talk whether there are any species at risk that we should be concerned about in the area. We talk to other departments as well when we go through this process. There is no quarry that just operates without approvals in terms and conditions. I just want to make that clear.
MS. ZANN: Are you aware that blasting is happening close to a natural gas pipeline in that area?
MR. RANKIN: I am not aware of any.
MS. ZANN: Maybe that’s something that your department could look into. This is what I’m hearing as the Critic for Environment.
Could you tell me what is the typical cost for the proponent of completing a Class 1 assessment?
MR. RANKIN: I don’t have numbers. Our concern is looking at the science and evidence in an application.
MS. ZANN: But does it cost them something to have that done?
MR. RANKIN: I would say if they’re going to have to undertake studies from a consultant, generally, consultants would charge for that work.
MS. ZANN: The government itself doesn’t do a Class 1 assessment?
MR. RANKIN: We do a Class 1 assessment based on - they would have to put together a package, and they would have a meeting or correspondence with our department to see where the triggers are. There are specific triggers and regulations in Schedule A that show what the triggers are. Then they would have to spend money if they need consultant studies. Then after, if they do get approval, sometimes there are further studies that need to be done. Sometimes, there’s more information that a minister may require. They would have to undertake another study or a focus report or, if it’s warranted, an environmental assessment report which is for a significant activity but wouldn’t be aligned with the quarry activity.
MS. ZANN: Therefore, what impact would there be on your department’s resources if a Class 1 assessment was required for every quarry regardless of the size?
MR. RANKIN: The only impact would be that the decision would end up coming to the minister. It would be the same. We do have staff specific to our EA branch who wouldn’t normally see the IA. Our inspectors are involved in the IA. Some staff may see it or may not, but we certainly look at the evidence. If it’s warranted within our regulations, then it triggers it.
MS. ZANN: You don’t know how much it would cost? I’m asking what it would be on your resources. You said there would be a couple of inspectors. Do you have any idea how much it would cost if every quarry that asked to dig or blast a quarry - do you know what that would be?
MR. RANKIN: It would be speculating in terms of how many - you’re saying you would want an environmental assessment for literally every pit and quarry . . .
MS. ZANN: The quarries that are requested.
MR. RANKIN: Yes, I would probably want to have more environmental assessment people because that would mean an increase. I can’t give you the number.
MS. ZANN: Okay. What’s the typical cost to the department of completing a Class 1 assessment?
MR. RANKIN: There’s no incremental cost. It’s our complement of FTEs who look at the applications. We have a complement of FTEs based on the volume of work, and we’re proud that we didn’t ask for any new money in this particular budget. We do significant work, and I’m happy with the performance of our staff.
MS. ZANN: How many environmental assessments - let’s start with Class 1. How many - sorry, forget about that. How many environmental assessments occur for quarry expansions on an annual basis in Nova Scotia?
MR. RANKIN: Approximately one to five.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Time for the NDP caucus has expired. We’ll now go to Ms. MacFarlane for the PC caucus.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I will only be a few moments. I’m sure that the minister is probably aware of why I’m here. I’m here to ask some questions with regard to Northern Pulp and the environmental assessment that they will be applying for in July. I guess I’ll start with wondering if the minister could give me an update on this project.
MR. RANKIN: As the member knows, the proponent is required to bring a new effluent treatment facility application forward if they want to continue to operate past 2020. That is the year that we have committed as a government to close Boat Harbour’s treatment facility. We are anticipating that they will register for their environmental assessment. I have heard June, but it will be up to the proponent when they decide to submit the project for environmental assessment.
We are aware, as you are, that they have been doing some level of consultation with the community. We are aware that there could be some interest from the federal government, and we welcome any involvement that they have. As I said prior to you entering the room, we do rely on the competencies and the expertise that come from Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Essentially, they have jurisdiction over conservation and protection of the ocean. I do understand that is the level of interest coming from the community, particularly the fishers in the area. Whether or not they do their own process, we welcome their involvement either way.
We expect the project to come in. It’s a Class 1, which we spoke about multiple times. It will be a 50-day process on top of all of the work that they have been undertaking. They’ll have to supply enough information to make a decision based on our staff’s review of that material, the expert review from the federal government, any studies that they provide, and the public submissions.
Everyone who has been writing in to the department, we have said that they should register on the website, and then they’ll know. I know the media will be sure to let folks know for us when that project is registered. There’s that 30-day period. We’ll await the submissions and review those submissions.
Then a decision will have to be made whether or not it has enough information to even make a decision. We may need more information. We may need a focus report if the proponent isn’t able to provide enough targeted information on an area of particular interest. It could be a rejection. It could be an environmental assessment report, which would basically be aligned with the process of a Class 2 assessment. It would take some time to assemble a panel, and they would have a certain amount of time to review the project and make a recommendation based on that.
It’s a flexible process. It’s one that is appropriate, and it’s comprehensive. It allows the appropriate amount of regulatory oversight to ensure that we’re able to make a good decision. At the end of the day, if the information isn’t there to warrant a decision, then we’ll have to ask for more information.
MS. MACFARLANE: If it comes, at the end of the day, that you to have to attain more information to feel comfortable in signing your name to this application which could have detrimental effects on the fishing industry, the tourism industry, and currently there’s a large residential group that’s coming together as well - what do you say to Northern Pulp when you indicate that there could be delays? What is their response to that?
MR. RANKIN: Whether or not there is a delay is not my concern. We are the regulatory body that will look at the application, just as we look at other applications. The unknown of whether or not there is a deleterious impact to that receiving water will be a decision made by the federal government. It is clearly Section 36 of their Act that will make that decision. The project comes in, and they will give us feedback on whether or not that has that trigger.
We have to look at the application to see if we’re confident that it will meet the current CCME guidelines that are set out for all the different parameters. The regulations are federal around pulp and paper mills, and we expect them to meet those at a minimum. We will obviously consider all the public submissions. Those 30 days are an important part of the process. There might be information that the public wants the minister to know and consider when making that decision. We certainly take the registration of this project very seriously.
MS. MACFARLANE: Last session, when I asked the question, it was stated that it is a provincial issue. A week or two ago, I asked the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture whose responsibility it is, and he said it is a federal issue. There is a little bit of confusion floating around right now. Is it fair for me to say that it’s a federal and a provincial issue, then?
MR. RANKIN: That would be fair. At the end of the day, and I looked this up - in the Constitution, Section 91 says the federal government does have clear jurisdiction over conservation and protection of the ocean. We have to rely on their feedback and their scientists to determine whether or not that’s the case.
We have jurisdiction over the project being approved or not. There are different paths that the project may take. There could be a combined environmental assessment where both jurisdictions are going to be engaged in it in an official capacity.
We are moving forward, waiting for the project to be registered. We don’t have any indication that the federal government will be doing their own federal EA, but that is up to them. If they want to conduct a full federal environmental assessment, either with us or on their own, they can do that. The federal fisheries department could ask for a fisheries authorization if they wanted to do that. There are different ways that this could go.
We have to be focused on what our mandate is in this case, which is looking at an effluent treatment facility, conducting the environmental assessment, and welcoming feedback from the federal government and from our own Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, which will be engaged, and the Department of Natural Resources.
MS. MACFARLANE: Have you actually spoken with the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change or the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans?
MR. RANKIN: I have not spoken with them. There is no project registered yet. I have spoken to the Member of Parliament for that area, as you probably know. He just calls and asks me questions.
MS. MACFARLANE: It was kind of you to come to Pictou County. I believe it was on Sunday, November 6th that we met with the fishers and MP Sean Fraser. Have you had an opportunity to meet with the fishers again?
MR. RANKIN: No. I think their position is clear. They don’t want any kind of effluent treatment facility in that area. We are not afforded the opportunity to take a position. We have to be objective in applying the regulations that are in the Environment Act. I can’t jeopardize an application before it’s even registered and insert my own judgement or opinion before I have the facts in front of me.
I was certainly willing to sit and listen to their opinion. I do take their position - I think it is clear that they do not want an effluent treatment facility in Pictou Harbour. What I made clear, because I am a government member, is that we are committed to the legislation, which is the 2020 closure of Boat Harbour. That remains a government position.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just going back, you or your department hasn’t had the opportunity to speak to anyone federally. I’m in total agreement with Minister Colwell. To me, it is absolutely federal jurisdiction.
MR. RANKIN: The department staff has been talking with the federal department staff. I haven’t been part of that conversation.
MS. MACFARLANE: Okay, great. Thank you. I totally believe it is federal jurisdiction.
Knowing that your department has spoken to them federally, what has been the relationship with you and your department with our neighbouring province of Prince Edward Island? Prince Edward Island, regardless of political affiliation, are all standing together on this. I am just wondering what communication you have had with them so far.
MR. RANKIN: I think the only communication was the letter their Premier sent to our Premier. I was copied, so I responded on behalf of the Premier and basically offered them the same opportunity I have offered everybody - that 30-day process and that we accept public submissions. We will review them.
We do have to be looking completely at the science and evidence. The socioeconomic impacts are part of the environmental assessment too. That’s all considered. I think it’s important that we stick to the right process. Either way, it doesn’t matter what decision is made. This will be before the courts at some point in time, so we need to make sure that we’re following the regulations to a T.
MS. MACFARLANE: You say this will be before the courts at some time?
MR. RANKIN: Based on the opposition to it and based on the mills wanting to move forward with a new effluent treatment facility. There will be a decision made, and I would anticipate that whatever decision is made will be challenged.
I have a lot of confidence in my staff and how we go through the process of these approvals. There was a recent decision which was upheld in the court; that was made by us and an environmental assessment. I continue to have faith in the advice that I get from staff and the collaboration they have with our sister department in Ottawa. We will wait to see their feedback. If they want to conduct their own separate assessment or combined assessment, we would welcome that.
MS. MACFARLANE: We as Nova Scotians - sometimes it’s blind faith. I think that you’re doing a great job in your position. I understand that process is important. My understanding is that your department is certainly qualified. I would think that if I was within your department, I would have to question how comfortable anyone would feel in knowing that the science that you’re basing this on is coming from Northern Pulp and the people that they hire. It’s not a third-party consultant. This is huge.
No one - I won’t say no one because there are those who are insatiable and do want the mill closed. I’m not one of those people. Like I have stated many times, my father, grandfather, cousins, and uncles all work there. The reality is that I don’t want to leave a legacy to my children of what we see at Boat Harbour.
Are you and your department really comfortable in not having a third-party consultant go in and do these environmental assessments and all the different testing?
MR. RANKIN: My understanding is that the consultant that the proponent has hired is a reputable one. That’s not unlike any other application when there is a project. They go out and hire consultants. They have a record that they have to stand on.
We don’t just rely on what the consultant says. We have technical staff who review the conclusions and assumptions that are made. We do rely on the scientists that the federal government has as well, and they will review the application in its entirety.
If there isn’t enough information, we will not be approving the project. We will have to ask for more information if we require that. We may have to ask for a focus report on a specific issue. We may have to ask for the process that you are suggesting, which is a longer process and has an independent body that’s put together that reviews it.
At this point, we are going with the Class 1, which is triggered in Schedule A. Class 2s are typically for brand new pulp and paper facilities, new oil refineries, or new large projects like that. The intent, as I understand this project, is to improve the effluent treatment facility so it’s not discharging untreated effluent. I do read what people understand, and I think some people believe that it’s just changing what’s going into Boat Harbour and putting it into the Strait. We obviously wouldn’t approve that.
There has to be a system that treats the effluent in a way that meets the federal guidelines. If community groups are opposed to those guidelines or those regulations, if they don’t feel that they are strict enough, they should go to their federal government and say they want them changed. As of now, the regulations that are in place are what the mill will be designing their projects on in submitting their application.
There may be areas that come up through that process where we will require new studies or we will require certain terms and conditions. The effluent will come out through one pipe - that’s the way I understand it - and there will be an easier way to make sure that it’s in compliance than it would in today’s system, which is through the lagoon and the settling for a number of days.
Again, the project isn’t registered, so there is not a whole lot more I can say on that. I do understand they will be investing in certain areas that will help improve the effluent. We would expect an improved system when it is registered for that assessment.
MS. MACFARLANE: There are obviously great concerns from the residents, from the fishers. Many of them feel that their voices are not being heard. Do you have any recommendations for me? They don’t feel they are being consulted, and I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do anymore. There was a posting the other day where within a couple of hours, there were over 300 comments. I don’t know what it is at now if I go and look.
We just went through an election in May. I had a great campaign team. We literally knocked on close to 5,000 doors, probably like yourself. I know what I heard at the door: find me a doctor, and what’s going to happen with Northern Pulp?
The reality is that the majority of them don’t want the mill to close, but they would have liked a more stringent environmental assessment. Over a year ago. I had mentioned it in the House. Why are we not doing a Class 2? We are conflicted in Pictou because we understand that a Class 2 is extremely important for projects that are really in-depth and have a lot of magnitude to them.
A little old fisheries museum on the waterfront in Pictou was in the middle of their project, and a Class 2 was slammed on them to put pilings in to make a boardwalk. Yet we have an effluent treatment plant that could be putting out up to 80-some million litres of treated effluent a day - that’s more than HRM uses, by the way - into our beautiful waterways, and they get a Class 1 assessment. There’s no justification in that, absolutely none. It’s mind-boggling.
I know we can say it’s a modification. It’s really not a modification when the treatment facility is currently eight miles away from where it’s going to be built.
I just want to end it on that because I have to head over there. I do have faith in you, and I do have faith in your department. I hope you will keep me posted on everything because it means a lot to the residents of Pictou County.
I’m out there now publicly saying it. I will never, ever protect jobs over health. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. Thank you for everything. Thanks to your department. Good luck.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cumberland North.
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I only have a couple of small questions for the Minister of Environment. When I first started campaigning in Cumberland North, I had a lot of local people come to me with concerns about clamming fishery. I will explain how it is related.
I did some investigations and sent some e-mails, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada came back saying it’s a municipal problem because of the contamination from the septic beds. They said it was also sewage from farms and cottages. I then contacted the municipal government, and they said that it’s not their fault, that it’s actually the provincial government’s fault, the Department of Environment, because they approve placement of the septic beds.
I am in a real predicament trying to find solutions for the citizens, especially the cottagers and the people who have lived along the North Shore for a long time. They want to be able to dig clams - not for commercial reasons just for personal, domestic use. Whether it is federal or provincial or municipal, everyone blames the other level of government.
I have planned a public meeting in May, and I have invited all three levels of government to come and answer questions for people. I just wanted to ask today if you had any solutions or ideas on how I could approach this problem for the people. If there is truly contamination, and it’s not safe, how could we fix that so that in the future the clamming industry could be brought back?
MR. RANKIN: Because I don’t know the particulars of this problem or potential problem, could you send me some info? Onsite septics is under the province - that sounds like it is under our jurisdiction. We would have to do an investigation, look at the evidence, and see if there is action that we need to take. I am certainly more than willing to work with you on that.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: That’s great, thank you. I’m just trying to find some solutions.
Along the same topic, last summer I had a couple of people, again along the shore, contact me to ask if the beaches were safe. They said the beaches had been closed in Shediac and Cap-Pelé due to high bacteria counts. They wanted to know what testing is done along our shore.
We made some calls. From what I recall, we were told that the only beaches that have provincial testing are the lifeguarded beaches. In our area, the only one would be Heather Beach, and it had been tested and was considered safe.
Do you think that is sufficient, considering that beaches just 50 miles away are closed due to contamination? Do you think we should be taking a closer look at our shorelines and beaches?
MR. RANKIN: Because it’s the ocean, this is basically under federal jurisdiction. We have rivers and lakes and stuff under provincial jurisdiction. The septic piece could be ours because we would be enforcing what happens from material that is coming off land. We would look at it property by property, to see what is causing that exceedance of material.
CCME, which is the council for environment guidelines, have certain criteria - a maximum of a certain amount of types of bodies of solids and things like that. They would have to choose where they do those types of testing. It sounds like they limit them to official areas where recreational swimming is. They may not want to enforce them in other areas. We still have municipalities, and I won’t say which ones, that do discharge raw effluent. I am sure there would be exceedances wherever that pipe is coming out.
It would be a question for the federal government to see how broadly they would like to expand where testing occurs. That one is a little bit more federal.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: The testing at Heather Beach - I think I was told that was provincial. Maybe I am wrong.
MR. RANKIN: We will find out that information. Our department doesn’t do it, I understand, but we can look into that, too.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Okay, awesome. Would you have any recommendations if I was contacted by people who live along the shore? If they were worried, where should I direct them to have their water tested? I have been asked. Is there anywhere that they can test it themselves just to ensure that the bacteria counts are safe?
MR. RANKIN: Any accredited lab can do the water sampling for you. Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service tests beaches that they have lifeguards on only, so you’re correct on that one.
The medical officer of health recommends beaches that are advised against swimming in. Wherever you don’t have a lifeguard, the medical officer of health recommends not to swim.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Okay, we’ll take that under advisement. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacMaster.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Minister, we covered some ground there in the first hour. I asked a lot of questions around the cap and trade that’s planned, around some of the boards that have vacancies on them, and around emissions reporting. I’m going to move on to some other questions now.
I understand there will be some consultation with Nova Scotians that will inform the development of a coastal protection Act to protect our coasts. My question is, how and when will the consultation take place? How will it include people who are fishermen, fisherwomen, the aquaculture industry, and tourism businesses? I know they have interests in something that’s going to be protected. I often think about the uproar over the marine protected area that the federal government had been advocating, and what that could possibly mean for fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I’ll let you respond, minister.
MR. RANKIN: We’re very early in the process. I have only seen a couple decks so far from the staff who have been engaged. There’s a high level of interest from the Ecology Action Centre. I believe we have met with them.
The key stakeholder groups is municipal units. We’re still trying to figure out the most appropriate way - through the Department of Municipal Affairs - to engage UNSM. It really has to do with land use and planning to a degree, and how we set the legislation up so that it doesn’t overlap other legislation. Some municipal units would have setbacks already.
Essentially, it doesn’t completely align with your comparison with the federal government going in the water. Our intention is to focus on the coastline itself and not go into the water. Then we’re entering into the federal domain. We are essentially looking at a system to ensure we’re protecting people from the coastline and coastlines from people, not building in areas where they shouldn’t be building.
It is very early. At this point, I’m comfortable saying that, essentially, we’re looking at both horizontal and vertical limitations and making it consistent across the province. For example, where you run into a beach, that beach is already protected from that through the Beaches Act. We wouldn’t want to interfere and supersede that Act. We would basically draw a parameter.
In terms of consultation, we would be looking at stakeholders this Spring. If all goes well, we would look at legislation potentially for this Fall, but it’s not confirmed. We would take your feedback in terms of your suggestions on how we approach stakeholders from the good County of Inverness.
MR. MACMASTER: This sounds like it’s more to protect against erosion and perhaps rising ocean waters and waterways. It’s probably not as much of a concern to the fishing industry in that sense because, as you say, it’s not going to be looking at what’s happening actually in the ocean. It’s just focused on the land on the coast.
MR. RANKIN: That’s the intention, but of course through consultation, things can change. That’s the intention we’re moving forward with. We are going to be flexible. There are obviously structures there already, so there will have to be grandfathering in and things like that too.
MR. MACMASTER: I would think the insurance industry would have a lot of interest in this as well because they are insuring people who have maybe built in places that may not have been suitable building locations with changing conditions.
MR. RANKIN: Exactly.
MR. MACMASTER: My next question - one of the statements made by the department was to work with the Department of Natural Resources on a biodiversity Act and create a biodiversity council. Can the minister offer an update on that in terms of this year’s budget? Is that something that has been budgeted for? What are the outcomes that the department is aiming for there?
MR. RANKIN: I was just thinking how to answer that one. DNR is the clear lead on that, so I have no idea if there are any budget ramifications for putting that together. It is part of our mandate for DNR to consult with Environment, and I have been consulted. I think they are close on assembling that body.
MR. MACMASTER: So the biodiversity council will be appointed by the Department of Natural Resources?
MR. RANKIN: Correct.
MR. MACMASTER: Moving to land protection, I know that the department designated 15 more sites last year, bringing the total to 12.39 per cent of the province now designated provincially-owned land and protected land. The department has a goal of 13 per cent. Is there an intention in this year’s budget to purchase lands to bring the provincial protected land up to 13 per cent?
MR. RANKIN: There’s no fiscal allocation to purchase any further land through Environment. As the member probably knows, there was a plan created some time ago that includes Crown lands that are pending - I guess that’s a word you can use - that goes over 13 per cent. We’re looking at some of those lands and trying to use a scientific lens as to what’s in the best interests in terms of protecting the biodiversity and ecological value, and looking at the level of consultation that has taken place and whether it has happened recently, so if there’s some refresh needed to consult with the community.
I think of Cape Mabou, where there is some activity going on adjacent to the potential land. That area would be pending, and there’s some cattle grazing and stuff going on. That’s an area where we do want to refresh consultation with agriculture and with the councillors. I think we intend to have that meeting in the region, so if you wanted to attend that, that would be good. But that’s basically the balance.
I have had numerous meetings with people across the province who said they were taken aback and weren’t even aware when their land was protected, and they have used it for generations for driving their ATVs through. There are obviously competing interests with regard to these lands.
It is in my mandate to move towards 13 per cent, so we’re doing that. We’re working on a batch now that we’re hoping to bring to Cabinet. We will incrementally move towards that 13 per cent. The next batch won’t get us there, but it’s a batch that we believe in.
We work with DNR hand in hand. There’s a kind of a study group that’s put together with both departments and reviews which lands are ready, which have the appropriate amount of consultation and don’t have complications. Sometimes there’s more surveying that needs to take place which I suspect could happen in the Mabou catchment area. We do intend to make progress this year, and we don’t see a need for any financial resources to make that happen.
MR. MACMASTER: Just to confirm, if there was money in the budget for that, would it fall under the Department of Natural Resources?
MR. RANKIN: Not necessarily. We could ask for it through the capital TCA process, but we did not ask for it this year. We didn’t think we need it. Most land purchasing does happen in DNR, and they can choose to look at protection afterwards. The way we’re moving now doesn’t necessarily mean that we need funding to purchase any more lands for protection purposes.
MR. MACMASTER: Because you may be getting land donated.
MR. RANKIN: That’s actually a small portion, private sector. You referenced 12.39 per cent. I think the effective percentage is more like 12.42 because there is some private land that has since been protected, but it still needs to go through an Order in Council to be officially protected. We would include those pieces in the next submission to Cabinet.
The private-sector lands that are protected are a very small percentage compared to the other ones that we have. A lot of times they are islands and small areas that are of big interest for a nature reserve and those types of groups. They’re important nonetheless, but when you look at the global number of protected percentage lands, it’s not that high.
We have Crown land. We have provincial areas like Cape Split and some of those areas. People probably think they’re protected but they’re not. They’re just in the pending category that is part of the plan to protect but has never officially gone through Cabinet for full protection.
MR. MACMASTER: That would be an example of Crown land that the government already owns, so it doesn’t have to pay anything to access it and still has the power to protect it.
MR. RANKIN: Right.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, understood. I don’t know if you would know this or not, but what would be the average price per acre paid for land protected over the last two or three years?
MR. RANKIN: I don’t know that. Let me see. Okay, we can get that for you.
MR. MACMASTER: That will be great. I appreciate that.
The next question I have here has to do with enforcement. As I understand it, there is going to be a prosecutor hired for Nova Scotia Environment. Can the minister comment on that position? Is it in the budget this year? What would the cost of that be? What impacts would that have in terms of revenue for the department?
MR. RANKIN: There wouldn’t be any revenue. If there are fines associated with enforcement, that goes into general funds.
The funding that we had been able to find was found internally in the department. We didn’t request incremental funds. It’s about $85,000, and we were able to use that prosecutor I think around 90 per cent of the time. They remained independent, like all prosecutors in the province.
The amount of legislation that we’re responsible for is significant, and it’s an opportunity to have somebody dedicated who can work with our compliance team and inspectors to ensure we’re gathering the appropriate information to make sure we have good-quality cases before the courts, if it gets to the court. Not all of them do. We have noticed some success with Labour and Advanced Education, and we have requested that we be afforded that opportunity to have a dedicated prosecutor. I think recruiting will start in June for that position.
When we did our jurisdictional scan, we noticed that some other provinces have that prosecutor. Consider that we are now involved in food safety, animal welfare, and a long list of other regulations that are associated with those departments under the Department of Environment. I think that it more than warrants at least one prosecutor. I’m actually pretty excited about that. It was something that we heard our inspectors were looking for when I did my tour around the province.
MR. MACMASTER: So this person is going to be driven based on what they’re hearing from your compliance officers or your enforcement officers. They’re not going to be driven by their own agenda. They’re going to be driven by working with the people who are informing them, the prosecutor, of possible offenses.
MR. RANKIN: They are independent, though. They don’t report to us. They are just dedicated to the legislation we have, the Environment Act and other pieces. Today, our inspectors would meet with prosecution and figure out whether or not a summary offence ticket is the appropriate method, or if it warrants going to long-form prosecution so they would go through the process in the courts. Rather than having different prosecutors assigned to each case, we can focus on one. In recent activity, you can see that we have been in court on various files, so there is definitely enough work for that one individual to take on and have focus entirely on our department.
MR. MACMASTER: You briefly alluded to it there, but I understand that the enforcement branch of Environment has incorporated employees from other departments into one unit. Can you describe how that has gone? Is it complete? How is it working?
MR. RANKIN: I would say that it’s a big change, particularly for those who have been working for decades under a certain department and looking narrowly at certain activities. For example, in DNR, if they never had to engage in inspecting aquaculture sites or those types of things, they now go into a boat, and they go out. We had to do a heavy amount of training, and we will continue to do training.
I think we could be candid and say not everybody was enthused by the idea of taking on responsibilities across the board. I will say opportunities have presented themselves in ways. Some of the positions were seasonal positions because the work wasn’t warranted year-round. I have met with them, with senior staff. Of course they would like better job security. We have now transitioned them into full-time equivalents, and they have been able to have more certainty around their career paths.
There have been some challenges. I know that the department and that division, specifically, had one of the lower morale scores when they did the survey - I think it was a month after I was put in place. We went out to visit them and to hear some feedback from them. We’re hoping that with some of the changes and better communication channels in terms of what changes in policy and procedures are happening, we’re able to improve on that. Our IT system is getting better in terms of tracking the approvals and more focus on risk and things like that.
I will say that there have been some challenges. I think overall it has been good to have a focus on our enforcement under one roof.
MR. MACMASTER: I presume there is some analysis, some monitoring, of the enforcement staff, of their success. Is that something the department is monitoring?
MR. RANKIN: We do 22,000 inspections a year. It’s significant. We have a group called RICO, which has certain responsibilities in each region of the province. They basically monitor the activity of these inspectors. I think with that dedicated division with better IT systems - I referenced SNAP, where you’re able to see your notifications of when to follow up on terms and conditions - all of that will improve. Food and safety - we did have over 1,300 overdue inspections, and we have been able to cut that in more than half over the last year. We’re going to be looking at opportunities to focus on our risk areas, making sure that we’re using our resources in the most effective manner. I think we do have a good system in place, but it’s still fairly new. Whenever there’s big transitional change like that, it takes some time so you can really see the full benefits of it.
MR. MACMASTER: The Auditor General has come out with a report earlier today, and I know your department will be expecting that. There were some recommendations made back in 2014. Many of them were completed by the department, but there were a few that were not. They involve public drinking water.
I notice Recommendation No. 5.9, “The Department of Environment should establish time frames indicating when inspectors should issue audit reports. The Department should monitor compliance with these time frames.” I know that was a recommendation that the department agreed with at the time and intended to implement back in 2014. There were others here as well. Is the minister concerned about that specific recommendation? Or is this something that the department has under control and perhaps plans to implement under this budget year?
While the minister is thinking, I notice the other recommendations were sort of along the same lines of utilizing information available in a tracking system for analysis and identification of risks and tracking time for key inspector activities for use by management and the department in operational planning and monitoring. I think all of these tools that would be used by management and the department to ensure safety of public drinking water are what the Auditor General has identified.
Minister, I’ll let you respond to whether or not the department is concerned about this or if you feel you have it in hand in this upcoming budget year.
MR. RANKIN: Some of this relates to a report on how we’re following up on our terms and conditions as well. Where we can do a better job, it’s clear to me, is on documenting and ensuring, whenever we are following up, that we’re documenting that we are.
When we went through all those terms and conditions, there was a reason for literally every one of them. Some of them weren’t even due yet. I first accepted his recommendations. I thought it was good, constructive feedback.
Was he fair on all of his conclusions? I would challenge that. One of them was forming a CLC committee if the department warranted one. The department never did warrant one, and he deemed that not complete. We are working with his office to ensure that we’re clarifying all those.
With regard to water, SNAP will help with both of those when we’re looking at the notification of when we follow up on some of those. Before it gets to the AG, we’re implementing a quality assurance program so that our senior management staff can have that quality lens look at each inspection and monitoring of things like water. We will endeavour to get a better completion rate for the Auditor General, because we can do a better job making sure that we’re documenting each time that we’re going out and monitoring it and looking at approvals.
MR. MACMASTER: Improving documentation of this work is something the department can do without increasing its budget for this year?
MR. RANKIN: Yes.
MR. MACMASTER: Moving towards client-focused service delivery as a goal of the department, what percentage of clients are using the new online system for notification and approval processing? If that question is too broad, just let me know.
MR. RANKIN: Sorry, what percentage of clients are using what?
MR. MACMASTER: Apparently, you have a new online system for notification and approval processing.
MR. RANKIN: Yes, that’s SNAP. The online piece is not yet launched. We’ll have that launched next year.
MR. MACMASTER: That’s the next budget year, a year from now?
MR. RANKIN: This coming year.
MR. MACMASTER: Within this fiscal year.
MR. RANKIN: Yes.
MR. MACMASTER: What is the cost to launch that system?
MR. RANKIN: This second phase is $1.1 million in total. We have $530,000 budgeted for 2018-19. Then subject for approval next year, it would be another $584,000.
MR. MACMASTER: I presume that will help to save the department money as well. Is that the case? Can you quantify that?
MR. RANKIN: It will make us more efficient and effective. I wouldn’t say it would save us money. As I said, we have been able to reduce the amount of overdue inspections in terms of food safety and restaurants. That fits under SNAP too. So does animal welfare and those types of sites.
It’s a way that we can streamline all of our approvals and notifications under one IT system. Currently they don’t even have an IT system for things like animal welfare and those types of cohorts. Really, it’s about updating some of the prior systems, which had limitations, which had quality assurance risks in terms of what it allows the user to do with that system. A more consistent IT system across the board will allow us to use our resources more effectively and focus on the higher-risk areas.
MR. MACMASTER: So it will improve your ability to do the work of the mandate of the department.
MR. RANKIN: Yes.
MR. MACMASTER: When people receive approval - and I take it there are all kinds of different approvals - are those going to be made available online? Will they be transparent to the public when an organization or a person receives approval? Can you explain how this system may provide greater transparency?
MR. RANKIN: Eventually that is the goal, to be putting all types of approvals online so that we can be more transparent. The industrial approvals are already online, so Nova Scotians can view them.
We’re also looking at even our compliance activities. When we announced the Crown Prosecutor, we mentioned in that release that something that I wanted to see is more of an avenue for Nova Scotians to look online and see when there are charges before a company. That will take place as well.
MR. MACMASTER: This is kind of a unique question. It’s here, so I’m going to ask it. Safe body art standards - are they available at this point? It’s a pretty specific question.
MR. RANKIN: The regulations are done, but the standards are being drafted.
MR. MACMASTER: Does that mean those regulations have passed through Cabinet already?
MR. RANKIN: Yes, they did. It’s a combined effort of Health and Wellness and Environment.
MR. MACMASTER: But the standards are not yet complete.
MR. RANKIN: Right. It goes live in February 2019.
MR. MACMASTER: We can expect to see the standards in February?
MR. RANKIN: They could be available as early as the Fall, those standards, but our target date for when they’re in place is February 2019.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you for the clarification.
Has the department identified any unnecessary regulations or regulations that have become redundant that you’re working to reduce in terms of red tape for Nova Scotia business?
MR. RANKIN: It is within our mandate to make sure that we’re moving towards a more streamlined approach across government and the Premiers’ Charter. We do need to make sure we’re following our mandate. This is the balance that I was talking about with our colleague. Certainly, we don’t want to create any red tape by changing regulations for approvals, which I think that member was advocating for.
We are looking at moving things across. If it currently has an approval process and the risk is low enough, can we move them into more of a notification rather than an approval? Obviously, some of those decisions have to be made with the understanding that Nova Scotians are comfortable with changes that could take place if they think that there is a risk or a perceived risk, and those don’t always align. Higher-risk areas are where we would always want to make sure that the process is prescriptive and that they’re following the rules. We are looking at more lower-risk areas.
As I was talking about earlier, we did extend the mercury diversion program with Nova Scotia Power. That is saving a significant amount of money, and I believe it will go towards our target of red tape reduction. We have a certain figure that whatever we save on the cost of business is counted towards. I think that was eligible for that one.
There were some minor ones earlier. I think we did it on asbestos storage in industrial park facilities. That was very low risk because it was in a building, so we were able to save in the order of magnitude of hundreds of thousands of dollars, so not a huge amount.
That is part of our mandate. If there are opportunities through our review of the EGSPA legislation to help streamline any of the processes for businesses, then we would look to do that as well. It is the balance that’s hard to achieve sometimes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the Progressive Conservative caucus has elapsed.
We will now move on to the NDP caucus. Ms. Zann.
MS. ZANN: We were talking about quarries, and I had another question I wanted to ask about that. In 2007, the Joint Review Panel report for the Whites Point Quarry and the Marine Terminal Project recommended that quarries of all sizes be subject to environmental assessments in order to address quarry creep, which I had mentioned in my last hour.
Has your department looked into the possibility of eliminating the 3.99-hectare loophole by requiring a Class 1 environmental assessment for all quarries regardless of size? Have you ever looked at that?
MR. RANKIN: I’ll have to find where that report is. If it’s at the department, we’ll have a look at that and see if there’s any merit to that and balance that with the discussion that we just had with your colleague in terms of how we’re able to ensure that businesses have limited amounts of red tape to ensure that they can invest.
Quarries are businesses, and they do provide an aggregate that serves the public interest in terms of having safe roads. We certainly wouldn’t want to burden companies that are providing a good service and ensuring that we do have access to aggregate in areas where we’re doing some paving. That’s the balance of considerations that we have to think about.
MS. ZANN: Does your department believe that requiring a Class 1 assessment for all quarries would reduce the number of quarries or the amount of aggregate produced in the province?
MR. RANKIN: As I said earlier, they start with an industrial approval, which is still a stringent process that has terms and conditions and monitoring and such. If they are able to find a marketed amount of aggregate as they move forward, they eventually do trigger an environmental assessment if they go beyond 3.99 hectares. I would say that industry would probably want that changed to, say, 10 hectares before they would have to do an environmental assessment. I would expect you would get both sides asking for a change.
Other provinces monitor it in different ways. They look at the amount of aggregate that’s taken out. We’re certainly willing to have that discussion, but I think that we should make sure that we’re looking at the balance. If we do trigger of an environmental assessment right away, what does that mean for the potential of a new quarry to explore and look at operating on a smaller footprint before they invest in the full process of a Class 1 environmental assessment?
MS. ZANN: Remember, we talked about what it would cost for a Class 1 environmental assessment, and you said you didn’t know. I asked if they were going to pay for it, or you pay for it - who does it? You weren’t sure. It may not be very much to pay for a Class 1 environmental assessment, but it would certainly ensure that the area that is proposed is not one where there are endangered species or species at risk or any kind of aquifer issue going on.
Again, I don’t understand why - the Joint Review Panel report for the Whites Point Quarry and Marine Terminal Project recommended that all quarries be subject to environmental assessments. It makes sense to me. You said 10 acres, which is four hectares - 3.99 hectares is 10 acres. We’re saying it probably should be done from day one. If you’re going to dig something, let’s just check and see what’s there first.
As I had mentioned before, there are 12,000 quarries already in Nova Scotia. Of those 12,000 quarries, only 3,500 of them are still being used. Why keep creating craters in Nova Scotia when, in fact, there’s enough aggregate there that they don’t have to keep starting new ones? That’s kind of the point. Do you think that a reduction in quarries would mean a significant increase in the trucking of aggregates? Does your department believe that it would significantly impact the cost of road building?
MR. RANKIN: Cost wouldn’t be our consideration, although I could see fewer quarries operating with much larger footprints. Again, if you are able to start a smaller footprint, you still go through that industrial approval. From my understanding - and we do meet with all stakeholders, environmental groups, community and the Road Builders Association - they feel that allows them to mitigate the risk and the cost of doing business.
I didn’t know the cost, but staff have been able to say that it could be $100,000 to $200,000 or more to go through the environmental assessment process. Would they be willing to take that risk? It’s not as likely if they didn’t have some idea of what kind of aggregate is in the ground.
When I said 10 acres, I meant 10 hectares. I would be certain that the industry would like to have a higher threshold of how much they can go and look for aggregate and blast until they trigger that environmental assessment. All I’m trying to say is that there is a balance, and there is equal pressure on both sides to make changes. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying, let’s put more approvals on every single aggregate activity.
There are strict guidelines around monitoring surface water and things like that. We do look at the impacts to the area, even in an industrial approval. Increasingly on every permit, there is usually a community liaison committee if there is interest from the community.
We do need aggregate. You mentioned something that I mentioned earlier, that they’re not always operational. They’re only operational when there is activity, when there is demand, when there are roads that need to be fixed in the area. That kind of proves the point that just because there’s a quarry approval in an area doesn’t mean you are going to see the dust that people are concerned about or the trucking that people are concerned about.
If the dust and the trucking are of concern, I would submit to you there would still be concern when they are doing the roadwork in the area. We hear it as MLAs whenever there is substantial road work in the area. There is construction, there are things happening, and there are delays. That is a reality of building and road building in the province. Quarries are needed.
We’re confident in the process that we have, in terms of how they go through the approvals, and our inspectors go out and do 22,000 inspections a year. They work for Environment because they care about the environment. I have full confidence in the staff to ensure that these companies are meeting the terms and conditions set out.
MS. ZANN: The only problem is the staff is not checking them out if it is below 3.99 hectares to start with.
MR. RANKIN: They are. It’s just an industrial approval.
MS. ZANN: Right. You need to do an assessment first to figure out what is actually there. I believe that is partly why the Auditor General is complaining about the government. He feels they are not doing enough to protect the endangered species and species at risk.
Again, it doesn’t make any sense to me why you wouldn’t do an assessment before you dig. Surely if you want to protect the environment of Nova Scotia, which is what the job of the Department of Environment is, you would want to know what’s there before you start destroying it.
In any case, I want to ask just one more question about quarries, and then I’ll move on. How many new quarries are developed each year? How many are under four hectares?
MR. RANKIN: I’ll have to get back to you. I think I answered one.
MS. ZANN: New quarries.
MR. RANKIN: We’re estimating dozens. That is what we believe in terms of the macro level of quarries. I think I said earlier that one to five trigger the EA.
MS. ZANN: And what about under four?
MR. RANKIN: So dozens minus one to five.
MS. ZANN: So dozens under four . . .
MR. RANKIN: Could potentially be, yes. We can get you more detail if you want.
MS. ZANN: Yes, and also the locations where they are would be great too, please.
I would like to move on to offshore drilling. What role does your department play in ensuring that the CNSOPB adequately takes environmental concerns into account when considering drilling projects and insists on rigorous environmental standards.
MR. RANKIN: We don’t play a role because it’s clear in the Constitution that the oceans and the environment in the ocean is federal.
MS. ZANN: So you don’t look at it at all. It never comes in front of you?
MR. RANKIN: No.
MS. ZANN: The other thing is about spills. Again, you may not have an opinion about this or you may have one, but it might not be to do with your portfolio. In Norway, they insist that companies have a capping stack available within hours in case of a spill. In Nova Scotia, we have basically been saying that it doesn’t need to be there for weeks. Do you think that we need to have a better standard?
MR. RANKIN: I would defer to my colleague in the Department of Energy. I think he would be the more appropriate minister to respond to comparing regulations in different countries around that.
MS. ZANN: Regarding the plastic bag situation, how long did your department have between becoming aware that China would no longer accept our plastic bags and the date that they stopped accepting them?
MR. RANKIN: As I recall, about half a year. I think it was in the summer of 2017 that they said that they would no longer accept a certain percentage of contaminants on film plastic. I think it was 0.05 per cent and subsequently reduced to 0.03 per cent. They said that they would stop accepting it by the end of the year, I believe.
MS. ZANN: Did you start taking meetings with anybody at that point to try to figure out what to do with the extra plastic that we would be stuck with?
MR. RANKIN: I have always been open to meeting with anyone who wants to. Solid waste is a big interest of mine, having hosted HRM’s landfill in my community. We have looked at how we can improve our solid waste strategy since it hasn’t had too many areas of improvement in the last few years since it was first developed.
One of the challenges in terms of the role the province plays is that the flow of municipal waste and mixed waste goes through the municipal units. They do have jurisdictions in terms of where their material ends up. We are the regulator where Nova Scotia landfills are concerned and what materials are allowed in there. We can change regulations on what’s allowed and what’s not.
Nova Scotia is the only province that bans plastics from landfills. We have met with pretty well everyone we could in terms of recyclers and in terms of the solid waste chairs. There are seven across the province. I met with them before on a solid waste efficiency study that we wanted to undertake and their interest in potential expansion of the extended producer responsibility. The meetings are ongoing since I have been minister.
The plastics started to be bubbling up when everyone would have seen it in the media. HRM was asking if they could have a variance - not long term but a short-term variance to be able to put it into a landfill around Christmastime. We made our decision in early January that we would allow it for six months. We have heard that they have been able to find markets. They have been quiet about where these are for competitive reasons because other municipalities have that same issue.
It’s a challenge. We have had challenges in the past in the province of where to put paper and other types of material. It’s one I think that we should be able to find some solutions to. I referenced waste energy and I don’t think that’s a solution in the near term; it certainly is in the long term. Plastics do have caloric value that can be turned into some type of fuel, so that’s an option. There are other options that I will discuss with municipalities.
Some units have passed a resolution calling on the province to enact a ban or extend EPR. None of them have taken the action that is in their jurisdictions, which is banning the bags themselves. I think HRM asked for a report that won’t be provided for some time. They do have it under their jurisdiction if they would like to do that.
We are still considering a provincial approach to how we encourage the reduction of single-use plastics. It’s not only bags that people should reduce their consumption of, but plastic straws and those types of things. I think everyone should look at how we reduce the amount that we use. The question is whether or not we exert our legislative power to compel them to do that. That is a question. I will continue to have meetings with the municipal units and with the business community which depends on them to a degree and other stakeholders who are important in this discussion. I have heard from Nova Scotians quite a bit.
I do want to move the province forward in our solid waste strategy, and I think there are ways we can do that.
MS. ZANN: Yes. From what I’m hearing from most Nova Scotians that I have been taking to - just grassroots across the province - everybody seems to be pretty well open to banning single-use plastics. Truro, up on the North Shore, through the Valley, anywhere I have travelled, I have been asking, what do you think? People seem to feel like, yes, what are you going to do? We have to do something with it. If we just had less of it, that would be good, even putting vegetables in paper bags like we used to do - they last longer, too. Thank you very much for that candid answer.
I want to move on to protecting our water. In particular, to start with, I want to talk about Alton Gas. As we mentioned earlier, they have officially delayed the project completion date now. We had talked earlier about pushing it back by a year - they were going to put a hold on it for a year. They have officially delayed their project completion date to 2020-21. It’s now many years since the original completion date. How many years can Alton Gas keep pushing back their completion date without getting a new environmental assessment approval, taking into account changing conditions and new science?
MR. RANKIN: We’ll have to get that information for you. We have to find out when they started construction. There is a period of time that an environmental assessment is good for, so we would have to circle back and see when that was.
MS. ZANN: Okay. Thank you. If you could do that, I would really appreciate that.
Water defenders who are protesting the Alton Gas plan report that - and actually I have seen it for myself - the mixing channel is full of mud. That means that they can’t continue with the project as originally planned. I remember last year it filled up with mud too. It’s almost like they forgot where they were building.
They obviously need to either redesign that salt mixing channel plan or amend it somehow or other if they are going to go ahead with putting salt there. As you are well aware, many, many people, especially our First Nation people, do not want the salt brine to go in the Shubenacadie River. I think it is 80 or 90 million liters a day for three years. They have major concerns about that.
Would an amendment like that - redesigning the whole channel - require ministerial approval? Would it impact the status of the project’s industrial approval?
MR. RANKIN: There are potential changes. If they have changes in terms of the design of the project, we would have to look at that. Staff would have to analyze it to see if it does trigger a different type of approval. It doesn’t necessarily, but it could.
MS. ZANN: So if they are offering you something completely different or slightly different than even what they originally gave you to look at, then you would have to take another look and seriously consider it.
MR. RANKIN: Yes.
MS. ZANN: Has Alton Gas requested any amendments to its permit yet?
MR. RANKIN: No, no amendments.
MS. ZANN: One First Nations water defender reports asking the department whether there have been any amendments to the Alton Gas permit. The department apparently responded on February 15th saying that the main office is “working with the regional office on a response.” Since then, this person has not had a response.
Has anybody replied since I got this message from somebody a few days ago? They said that they had not received a response yet. Has anybody replied, or could they take another look and reply?
MR. RANKIN: If you can provide us with some information about who it is, we’ll ensure we get back to them. It may have something to do with the review that is happening right now, which is on my desk. We are reviewing what the court has asked the minister to review in terms of their last decision in the court.
MS. ZANN: I see. What they said was that they asked the department whether there had been any amendments to the Alton Gas permit. That was the question. The department said that the main office is working with the regional office on a response.
MR. RANKIN: The answer is no, there haven’t been any requests for any amendment. We can certainly look at the correspondence to ensure that. There may be something the department wants to further elucidate on that. We can make sure we get back to you.
MS. ZANN: While I am on about water, I was here in Law Amendments Committee when the Mineral Resources Act came up for discussion. There were a number of people here from throughout the Tatamagouche-Earltown-Colchester-Cumberland area with major concerns about the gold mine that is proposed to be put in the middle of the Tatamagouche watershed. They mentioned that the Tatamagouche watershed is a really important one because it’s attached to six other watersheds, and there are rivers and rivulets and streams that come out of the Tatamagouche watershed region that carry drinking water to 38 different communities.
The French River goes up to Tatamagouche and provides their drinking water. The North River and the Salmon River both go down and through many different smaller communities and come down to Truro - North River, Truro, Bible Hill, Salmon River, all those areas.
Gold mines are notorious for the toxicity and the chemicals that they spread. People are worried. They’re worried about their drinking water. They’re worried about their wells. They’re worried about what it is going to do to the area. My question for you is, has anybody come to you yet for an approval of any sort to put a gold mine in that area?
MR. RANKIN: We have not received any application for a gold mine in that area. I would say that any mine would require both an environmental assessment and an industrial approval. Any activity that is happening in that area would have to completely abide by the Environment Act. As a department, we were consulted on the legislation that was before the House through the Mineral Act.
MS. ZANN: So it would require a Class 2 assessment, one would imagine.
MR. RANKIN: Class 1.
MS. ZANN: Just a Class 1. Why only a Class 1 and not a Class 2?
MR. RANKIN: There are triggers highlighted in the Schedule A, which I don’t have in front of me. Class 2s are generally for new types of facilities like oil refineries and new pulp and paper facilities. Mining activity is a Class 1. You could find that in Schedule A of the amendments under the Environment Act.
MS. ZANN: Personally, I would request that the minister take a very, very careful look at that because, as I said, this is an extremely important watershed area. It’s attached to many, many different communities. This is a small province, and the last thing we need is to have toxic elements in our drinking water and in the water going through 38 different communities. We are concerned.
I would like to move on to tire burning. Your decision to allow tire burning by Lafarge was recently upheld in the courts. That decision did not speak to the question of whether the scientific evidence that your department had and based its decision on was complete and adequate.
As you know, Ontario toxicological expert Doug Hallett filed an affidavit saying that he reviewed the environmental assessment. He believes that whole tires would be burned at 700 centigrade, but the assessment analysis was based on shredded tires burning at a higher temperature, and that would impact emissions. Hallett said that the assessment didn’t examine factors such as groundwater contamination or the emission of carcinogens.
Does the possibility that your previous decision was based on inadequate evidence concern you?
MR. RANKIN: We are obviously glad the court has upheld the decision. I think that it is important to note that the project, which has its environmental assessment, is an approval for a pilot project which is supposed to validate the evidence that was provided from Dr. Gibson and the engineering team at Dalhousie.
This pilot project has yet to receive its industrial approval. We have received the application for it, but there is more information the staff asked for, so that hasn’t been approved yet. Once that decision is made, it will be a one-year pilot project, and there will be continuous monitoring at the cement kiln to ensure that what has come out of that study that you referenced is actually true. It shows that it actually does receive better outcomes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than the petcoke coal that they are currently using at the kiln. I think it was a 30-per cent reduction in carbon, and a 15-per cent reduction in nitrogen that they are forecasting. We’ll be monitoring that and ensuring that it is, indeed, a better use for that particular material.
MS. ZANN: Can you tell me, in all honesty, why you or your department would want to give a private company licence to burn tires in this day and age? They are going to profit from it. We already have a tire plant here that could turn it into aggregate to build pavements, school grounds, and things. We have a place to recycle tires, so why would we step backwards and burn them? I really honestly don’t get it.
MR. RANKIN: Our role in this is as the regulatory body. We have to look at the application. The role that chose to pivot the policy of handing tires was Divert Nova Scotia. Their board approved the tender that went out that had options, whether we stick with the one person that could handle tires or if we can have two or three options.
The tender that was awarded was their decision from before I was minister. It approved a way that we’re able to diversify the acceptance of tires so that we’re not ever in a situation where if one person stops accepting them, then we have the same scenario that happened in the province where we had stockpiled tires. When you have more than one place to put the tires, you limit your risk of that ever occurring.
In terms of profits, again, that’s not our consideration when we look at applications that come to the Department of Environment. We do know that it would take a significant investment for Lafarge to be able to accept the tires into the cement kiln. I’m not sure if they’re making a profit off that. I know that they do need to spend capital to accept the tires, and this is a five-year tender, so there’s no guarantee. First of all, it’s a pilot project. Second of all, it’s a five-year tender. Third, there were challenges for C&D Recycling to find markets for the material. Since this tender was awarded, there have been markets found, and some of them are going under road beds and scenarios like that. Is that because of the competitive pressure of having two options? It could be.
We have seen Newfoundland and Labrador change from having all their tires exported to cement kilns in Quebec to having a C&D place where they would recycle a percentage of their tires. They have taken the direction where they wanted to have more than one viable option.
It is a viable option in other jurisdictions. It did show that it is well within air quality guidelines. If it works, if it goes through the process for industrial approval, and the pilot project is successful, and you can reduce your carbon emissions at the plant, we should not be concerned about whether company A or company B is making money. What we ought to be concerned about is the environmental outcome at the cement kiln and ensuring that all the regulations are adhered to.
MS. ZANN: First of all, now that you know that there is more scientific evidence that is different from what the person at Dalhousie did, why won’t your department request that further scientific investigation and include that in your decision-making?
Newfoundland is actually now sending their tires to the recycling plant here in Nova Scotia to get them recycled. It doesn’t make much sense. We could be recycling our tires there. In fact, the government is paying the company to take the tires. Government is paying the company to take the tires, and the company is also saving money by burning the tires for fuel instead of going out and buying fuel. That’s just a couple of things there.
Now that you’re aware of it, why wouldn’t you? You would think the Department of Environment would want to take everything into consideration before they make a decision. If something comes in after they have already made the decision, you would think that they would want to then reconfigure and take that into consideration as well before they go ahead with it.
MR. RANKIN: We did consider all the public submissions from all stakeholders and from the scientific review within our department and within the other departments - public health safety officer. We have seen that this is a viable way of recovering fuel from a material, which they do in British Columbia and some other provinces like Quebec. I understand Newfoundland wants to have two options. They’re going to continue to send some of their tires to Quebec, which Nova Scotia used to do.
We used to send our tires to Quebec. Eventually, a solution was found with Halifax C&D Recycling. It was $200 a ton. That price has not changed in terms of what that company has charged Nova Scotians. Over time, we have seen the fee for tires go from $3.00 to $4.50. In the balance of all considerations, I do believe that it is advantageous for us to have more than one option to mitigate our risks if it’s viable in terms of the environmental outcomes. We do take that seriously. That’s our number one concern . . .
MS. ZANN: Minister, I am so sorry to interrupt. I only have two minutes, and I just want to ask you a question about something else entirely.
MR. RANKIN: Okay.
MS. ZANN: At Public Accounts, I asked a question a little while back, in February, about Northern Pulp. The department said that as part of the environmental assessment process, Northern Pulp would have to explain why alternative effluent treatment systems, like a closed-loop system, are not desirable or possible.
They said that a closed-loop process wasn’t possible because it’s a bleached kraft mill, but critics have pointed out that a closed-loop system would be possible if Northern Pulp shifted to producing unbleached pulp. Would your department consider requiring Northern Pulp to shift its production process, in order to reduce the environmental impacts of its effluent - for instance, going to unbleached instead of bleached?
MR. RANKIN: It is incumbent on us, when the project is registered, to ensure that they have all the information that is required for us to do a full, comprehensive review. Part of that information that is to be submitted is an analysis of other alternatives. We do expect that they undertake that study. If they don’t, we could ask for more information to ensure that they have considered other options.
That said, we have to make sure that we’re not overstepping because again, this could be challenged. Our decision could be challenged. Changing their product and what that means, if it is completely changing what the end product of a company is - what is the jurisdiction for us to say that you have to completely change that? That’s something that we would have to consider.
All of this can be put through the public submissions during that 30-day period. I have had similar correspondence from residents of Pictou County with regard to whether or not a closed-loop is viable, whether or not some of the effluent can be recycled. Maybe it’s not 100 per cent of the effluent, but there is . . .
MS. ZANN: That could help a lot. I would appreciate it if you would take a look at that, because that is something that I think is very viable and could be a really good solution for both sides. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have about two minutes minister, if you would like to take that and offer a couple closing comments. That has to be done within that two-minute time frame, just so you are aware.
MR. RANKIN: I would just like to thank the members for their questions, and I appreciate the feedback. I continue to be encouraged by the work that the staff are doing at the Department of Environment in all areas of the province. I look forward to a good year ahead. I would welcome meeting with any of the members who want to talk about any of the issues, how we develop our coastal protection Act, what the next phase of EGSPA looks like, and issues around solid waste, even tires.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E7 stand?
Resolution E7 stands.
That brings to a close our four hours today for debate in Supply.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 6:54 p.m.]