pollution

Fact Checking the Coal Industry’s 'Information Meetings' in Alberta

This is a guest post by Benjamin Thibault and Andrew Read of the Pembina Institute

These are not good days for the global coal industry. There is bad news at every turn, with countless reports of “sputtering” and even falling demand.

Alberta has been a bastion for coal use in Canada. For now, the province burns more coal for electricity than all other provinces combined. But the writing has been on the wall for some time; over the long run, dirty coal-fired electricity is not compatible with credible climate change reduction strategies or with the public demand for cleaner air. These are the realities behind the province’s commitment to improve Alberta’s air quality and climate reputation by phasing out coal power pollution by 2030.

It is within this context that the Coal Association of Canada (CAC) is touring Alberta with “ACT information meetings.” But the “information” simply does not reflect coal’s stark modern reality. Let’s do some fact checking.

4 Key Questions for Canada's New Pipeline, LNG Climate Test

This article by policy analyst Matt Horne originally appeared on the Pembina Institute website.

Last week, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr 
announced Canada’s intention to apply a climate test to major energy infrastructure proposals. This was the fifth of five new principles they announced to improve environmental assessments in the country.

The change is good news because it will fill a long-standing gap in the country’s environmental assessment process. The standard approach has been to look at individual oil pipeline or LNG terminal proposals without worrying about the oilsands mines or gas fields they’re connected to. The new approach will include the carbon pollution from the project being proposed and the carbon pollution from the development associated with it.

What the federal government hasn’t said yet is how they plan to evaluate the new information and integrate it into their eventual decisions. Here are four questions I’d like to see included in their climate test, using Petronas’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project to illustrate how they might work. In many cases, the federal government — as opposed to the proponent — is in the best position to address these questions.

Canada’s Highest Court Gives Ecuadorians Green Light To Pursue Chevron Assets

Chevron lost a high-profile pollution case in Ecuador in 2011 and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion for cleanup of billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest. So far, the company hasn’t paid a dime — but a recent ruling in Canada might finally force Chevron to pay up.

B.C. Minister Bennett’s Visit Fails to Ease Alaskans’ Mining Concerns

Bill Bennett

Promises of a closer relationship between B.C. and Alaska and more consultation on B.C. mine applications are a good start, but, so far, Southeast Alaska has no more guarantees that those mines will not pollute salmon-bearing rivers than before this week’s visit by B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, say Alaskan fishing and conservation groups.

Bennett, accompanied by senior civil servants from the ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, took a conciliatory tone as he met with state officials, policy-makers and critics of what is seen as an aggressive push by B.C. to develop mines in the transboundary area, close to vitally important salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said in a Juneau news conference with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that,” he said.

But promises of a strengthened dialogue and more opportunities to comment on mine applications fall far short of a growing chorus of Alaskan demands that the issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, formed under the Boundary Waters Treaty, which forbids either country from polluting transboundary waters.

Living Downstream of B.C.’s Gold Rush: Alaska’s Fishermen Fear End of ‘Last Wild Frontier’

Taku Inlet

No fish in the car, warned the rental car attendant at Juneau airport, with the weary tone of someone who had cleaned too many fish guts out of returned vehicles. It was a warning underlined by signs in hotels pleading with guests not to clean fish in the hotel bathrooms.

Fishing is in the DNA of Southeast Alaskans, not only as a sport and common way of filling the freezer, but also as a driver of the state economy. So it is not surprising that the perceived threat presented by a rush of mine applications on the B.C. side of the border has brought together diverse groups who want B.C. to give Alaska an equal seat at the decision-making table and to have the issue referred for review to the International Joint Commission.

I can’t conceive of not being able to fish for salmon. The grief would be too much to fathom,” said Heather Hardcastle, co-owner of Taku River Reds who has been commercial fishing for most of her life.

We share these waters and we share these fish. There has to be an international solution,” she said.

Alaskan Tourism Operators at Mercy of Canadian Mining Regulations

Smooth lumps of translucent blue ice float alongside rock-encrusted icebergs that have broken from Shakes Glacier before drifting into the Stikine River.

There is little trace of the heavy hand of human disturbance as tourists on the jet boat scramble on to a small scrub island and gaze at the expanse of ice, snowy peaks and dark cliffs sweeping down to the wild Stikine, the fastest free-flowing river in the U.S.

You don’t have to go far to find a place where no human has set foot on it before,” said James Leslie, who has been navigating the river since he was nine years old and drives the jet boat for his family’s company.

It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Leslie grew up in the nearby community of Wrangell and, like many in the area, uses the river for fishing, access to moose hunting, work and recreation.

The “anything” that Leslie fears is a spill or accident at nearby mines on the Canadian side of the border.

Oiling The Machinery Of Climate Change Denial And Transit Opposition

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

Who Says a Better World is Impossible?

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

Canada’s Fight Against NAFTA Investigation of Oilsands Tailings Gets Political, Wins Allies

tailings pond, suncor, tar sands, oilsands, alex maclean

The U.S. and Mexico appear to have joined Canada in its fight to prevent a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) investigation of the more than 176 square kilometres of tailings ponds holding waste from the Alberta oilsands near Fort McMurray.

In 2010 a group of citizens and environmental groups petitioned NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation to investigate whether Canada is breaking its own federal laws, in particular the Fisheries Act, by failing to adequately manage the massive tailings ponds which hold a toxic mixture of water, silt and chemicals.

It was important for us to know whether this was happening and whether environmental laws were being broken and whether the government is upholding those laws or ignoring them,” Dale Marshall from Environmental Defence, one of the organizations behind the compliant, said.

A 2012 federal study confirmed the tailings ponds are seeping waste into the local environment and Athabasca River. In 2013 an internal memo prepared for then Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed groundwater toxins related to bitumen extraction and processing are migrating from the tailings ponds.

Suncor Argues "All of Us" are Complicit in Climate Change, But New Lawsuits Could Prove Otherwise

suncor oilsands payback time andrew gage desmog canada

At West Coast Environmental Law we're gratified that Suncor, one of Canada's largest oilsands companies, has taken the time to read  and publicly disagree with  our recent report, Payback Time.

Payback Time examined the risks to Suncor and other Canadian fossil fuel companies of lawsuits brought by the victims of climate change outside of Canada

Suncor responded with a blog post entitled “What to do when everyone is the problem” that cleverly attempts to downplay Payback Time as just one of several efforts to single out a culprit for climate change. Suncor then argues that we are all to blame, suggesting that singling Suncor out for special blame is simply wishful thinking on the part of equally blame-worthy polluters (i.e. the general public).

Some groups are quick to single out individual countries, based on GHG emissions volumes generated within their borders. Others point the finger at specific industrial sectors which generate significant GHG emissions. Some lay the blame squarely on corporations which produce energy [linking to Payback Time] from fossil fuel sources. 

The hard, undeniable truth is that all of us, as fortunate members of the developed world, are complicit when it comes to GHG emissions…

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