Why clean-tech executives are telling Horgan to back off on Trans Mountain

More than two dozen clean-tech executives and venture capitalists have penned a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan asking him to back off on his opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Their main concern is the precedent it sets for a newly elected government to reverse a project that received regulatory approval by previous governments, particularly if conservative governments follow suit and cancel climate change policies.

“Unilateral action by B.C. to block the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline jeopardizes the progress made by Canada since 2015 in addressing its climate change responsibilities,” they write in their letter to Horgan.

“It makes very likely the election of provincial and national governments that will actively dismantle recent Canadian progress on the climate change agenda.”

The 27 executives and investors who have singed the letter include former Macdonald Dettwiler CEO Dan Friedmann, Mike Brown, a co-founder of Chrysalix Venture Capital, and clean-tech angel investor Mike Volker.

While there are plenty of precedents of successive governments reversing policies of previous governments, that’s not usually the case with projects that have already gone through statutory approval processes, said Denis Connor, a spokesman for the two dozen clean-tech executives and investors.

“Those things are usually sacrosanct,” Connor, first chairman of General Fusion and former CEO of QuestAir Technologies, told Business in Vancouver.

“If B.C.’s recently elected government cancels or abrogates an agreement of a previous government, what’s to stop a conservative government elected in Alberta, or federally, or in Ontario similarly abrogating the climate change deal?

“We are fundamentally concerned that we are setting a precedent of one government undoing the work of another government, and that’s going to just cause unending problem.”

Effective climate change policies are important to the clean-tech sector, since it gives investors confidence when investing in breakthrough technologies. When the Copenhagen Accord failed to get binding commitments to climate change, Connor said investment in carbon capture technology “evaporated.”

“We don’t want that to happen again,” Connor said.

“We went through years and years of the Harper government claiming it was going to do something and absolutely stalling. And now we have had progress – very quick progress – once we elected the (federal) Liberal government, and I and the others do not want to see that undone because the world cannot afford another hiatus of five to 10 years.”

In their letter to Horgan, the executives say halting the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline will not stop other oil producing nations from producing and selling oil.

“We believe the path to a stable climate is long and arduous with no easy short cuts, such as stopping shipment to world markets of oil from Alberta,” they write.

“Such Canadian oil would just be replaced by oil from the U.S. or other jurisdictions having easier access to ocean transport and no carbon pricing. By not constructing the pipeline expansion, Canada forgoes significant economic benefits with no offsetting global environmental gains.”

— Business in Vancouver

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