NDP rips Liberal government for gaps in oil-spill protection in B.C.

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By Michael Smyth, The Province October 28, 2014 8:25 AM

Premier Christy Clark insists she can protect the environment and create thousands of jobs by ramping up natural-gas, mining and other fossil-fuel production — but the NDP says she’s full of global-warming hot air.

On the jobs front, the New Democrats say Clark’s governing Liberals are more interested in bringing temporary foreign workers to Canada, rather than training unemployed British Columbians for jobs in the emerging liquefied-natural gas sector.

And on the environmental file, the NDP says the Liberals would prefer to smear “eco-fearmongers” instead of strengthening environmental protection and holding polluters to account.

The accusations flew Monday at the legislature, where NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert released internal government emails describing gaps in oil-spill protection.

In one email, the head of the province’s Environmental Emergency Program warns a counterpart about “gaps or deficiencies” in the system.

“We could point to hundreds of spills on an annual basis where gaps occurred or improvements are needed,” wrote Graham Knox.

Knox pointed to a small 2012 Kinder Morgan oil spill in Sumas where “no air monitoring or sampling was done to determine what the concentrations of chemicals in the air were.”

But Herbert reminded reporters that Terry Lake, then the environment minister, assured the public at the time that there was nothing to worry about.

“Terry Lake was out there, based on pixie dust and good intentions and with no actual science to back him up, saying, ‘Don’t worry, your kids will be fine.’ When he knew nothing. He had zero.”

The government said Monday it’s improving its spill-prevention and response system.

Gas minister Rich Coleman said that’s why the Liberal government loves its liquefied-natural-gas agenda so much: If the stuff spills, it just evaporates into the air.

In a dramatic experiment at the legislature, a lab-coated technician actually poured some ultra-cold LNG into a dish of water. The liquefied gas — which B.C. wants to sell by the tankerful to Asia — instantly condensed into harmless vapour, leaving nothing but ice crystals in the water.

Coleman then happily guzzled down a glass of the stuff, to demonstrate that LNG exports are safe.

PR stunts aside, the New Democrats still say the government is not doing enough overall to safeguard the environment.

“This is turn-and-look-the-other-way environmental protection,” Herbert said. He pointed to a recent tweet from Liberal MLA John Yap criticizing “eco-fearmongers” after a disabled Russian container ship loaded with bunker fuel had to be towed away from the shores of Haida Gwaii.

Yap defended his tweet.

“The system worked,” Yap told me. “The reaction of some, in my perception, was overblown.”

The New Democrats still accused the Liberals of gambling with the environment for new resource jobs that may be filled by temporary foreign workers, not British Columbians.

But the government had an answer for that, too, on Monday, launching a series of regional job fairs to inform people about LNG jobs and how to get them.

Just one problem: Everyone is still waiting for a single new LNG plant to be signed, sealed and delivered. Until then, it’s all talk.