Environmental Issues in Canada

environmental issues canada

With its abundant forests, natural resources and surrounding oceans, environmental issues in Canada are a hot topic.

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Here is a summary of our latest news coverage on environmental issues in Canada:

A group of scientists from across North America are calling on the governments of Canada and Alberta to impose a moratorium on future development of the Alberta oilsands.

The recommendation is the result of a consensus document that surveys scientific literature related to the oilsands from across research fields. The clear outcome of the research — as it relates to climate, ecosystems, species protection and indigenous rights — is a need to end oilsands growth, the group states.

As scientists we recognize that no one can speak with authority to all aspects of this complex topic, which is why we came together to synthesize the science from our different fields,” Wendy Palen, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, said.

The group of scientists, which include 12 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, 22 members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, five recipients of the Order of Canada and a Nobel Prize winner, released their consensus position on a website, www.oilsandsmoratorium.org, Wednesday. A ful list of the scientists supporting the moratorium can be found here.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signed on to a G7 commitment to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2100 and make significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The move will “require a transformation in our energy sectors,” Harper said at a news conference in Garmisch, Germany.

Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights,” he said. “We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower-carbon emitting sources of energy — and that work is ongoing.”

According to federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, an earlier draft of the G7 committment sought full decarbonization by 2050, but both Canada and Japan fought to weaken the declaration. 

The final version of the G7 leader’s declaration states: “We emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

“We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavour.”

Stephen Harper’s efforts to frame environmentalists as radicals who deserve to be investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service took three years to come to fruition.

It’s often claimed that Harper’s vendetta against environmental groups springs from his unconditional support for the oil industry. While that is more or less evident, it’s also necessary to consider the dominant influences — from his evangelical Christianity and his neoliberal ideology — on his tactics.

It was in early January 2012 that the Harper government first attacked opponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter accusing “radical” environmentalists and “jet-setting celebrities” of blocking efforts to open access to Asian markets for Canadian oil.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” Oliver, a former investment banker who raised money for oil companies, wrote. “They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”

Economist and former ICBC president  Robyn Allan withdrew from the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project Tuesday, saying she can no longer “endorse a process that is not working.”

In a letter addressed to Sherri Young, secretary of the NEB, Allan said the “review is not conducted on a level playing field” and that because the panel is “not an impartial referee…the game is rigged.”

Allan said she began to seriously question the process when oral cross-examination was removed from the process.

I had concerns with what that would do to the overall calibre of the process,” she said.

Allan said she wanted to “participate in good faith through the process of information requests” but now that it has been completed “it’s very clear it has been an exercise in futility.”

I wanted to see the process through enough to unequivocally conclude that it’s broken,” she said. “ Now I see it’s beyond repair.”

With the May 27 deadline for evidence submission to the National Energy Board’s review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project fast approaching, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver are stepping up.

Last Wednesday, the City of Burnaby quietly released a report [PDF] outlining the risks and possible implications of a fire at the Burnaby tanker terminal. The results, to quote Mayor Derek Corrigan, are “comprehensive and jarring.”

It is remarkable that Kinder Morgan is even asking the citizens of Burnaby to assume such risks, but even moreso that the National Energy Board is willing to consider expanding this storage site in this location — on a hillside near thousands of residents and a busy university, and adjacent to an urban conservation area. This report clearly demonstrates that questions about the safety of this proposed tank farm expansion should be answered prior to any decisions being made by the NEB and that the Board should consider this an essential priority.”

At an estimated 2,700 litres, the bunker fuel spill in English Bay was relatively small — yet the stakes of that spill couldn’t be much higher.

With Enbridge and Kinder Morgan both hoping to build oil pipelines to B.C., which would significantly increase oil tanker traffic in the province’s inside coastal waters, a dramatically mishandled marine oil spill raises all sorts of questions — questions the federal government does not appear well-positioned to answer, despite its aggressive push for West Coast oil exports.

Obviously, from the oil industry’s perspective, you couldn’t have picked a worse place to have an oil spill,” Jim Stanford, economist at Unifor and founder of the Progressive Economics Forum, told DeSmog Canada.

While the federal government insisted its response was “world-class,” a former commander of the shuttered Kits Coast Guard station blamed the six-hour delay in even deploying a boom to contain the oil on the closure of that station in 2013 — a move that is reported to have saved the federal government at estimated $700,000 a year.

The English Bay spill, beyond being a systemic failure, has been a total PR disaster.

EPA and Costco

The National Energy Board’s decision to grant Costco intervener status in its review of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline even though it had missed the deadline to apply is raising questions given that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was denied its request for an extension to the same deadline.

Costco submitted a late application to participate in the review of Kinder Morgan’s proposal to triple the capacity of its pipeline to Burnaby on April 9, 2015. The company argued that it received formal notice of the pipeline’s potential impacts on its Langley property on Feb. 4, 2015, when it was served with notice for land acquisition.

In a letter sent to all interveners, the National Energy Board wrote that Costco had provided sufficient reasons for the board to consider a late submission based on the fact “the project may cross Costco’s lands and it has the potential to be directly affected.”

American authorities are nervous about Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase oil tanker traffic by a factor of seven through the shared waters off B.C.’s coast, particularly in light of the recent slow response to a small fuel spill in Vancouver Harbour.

Richard Kinder, Houston-based billionaire and CEO of Kinder Morgan Inc., told an industry audience last week the TransMountain pipeline expansion project “will go forward” if granted approval at the federal level, despite growing and very vocal opposition to the project in British Columbia.

Kinder said pipeline opponents are using “spurious arguments” to purposely strangle pipeline projects across North America as a means of fighting development in the Alberta oilsands.

I am sure there are legitimate concerns about any mega infrastructure development, but a lot of this is [about] the pipeline as a choke point to get at production of the oilsands, which there are people in Canada and the U.S. who want to strangle that altogether,” Kinder said.

Kinder’s comments seem to affirm criticism that the company is refusing to take local opposition seriously.

Rich Kinder's optimism shows he really does not understand B.C.,” Tzeporah Berman, adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University, told DeSmog Canada. “British Columbians love this coast,” she added, noting the recent bunker fuel spill in Vancouver’s English Bay “was a real wake up call.”

Late Saturday afternoon, Transport Canada officially cleared the Marathassa to leave Canadian waters. As it slowly moves out of the Salish Sea, the bulk carrier leaves angry mayors, a combative coast guard, a distrustful public and many, many questions in its wake.

Even U.S. authorities are anxiously looking north wondering if Canada knows anything about marine oil spill response. 

What we know about this spill is important, but there’s a lot more we don’t know, and might never know, about what happened in English Bay.

Secrecy surrounding pipeline emergency response plans will soon be the subject of public consultation conducted by the National Energy Board (NEB), according to the board’s CEO Peter Watson.

As the CBC reports, speaking to a group of business leaders in Vancouver on Monday, Watson said, “Canadians deserve to be consulted on the transparency of emergency management information for NEB-regulated pipelines.”

Pipeline operator Kinder Morgan recently made headlines for refusing to disclose emergency response plans for its TransMountain pipeline expansion project, which would nearly triple the capacity of the existing line. Kinder Morgan refused to release an unredacted version of the emergency plan despite repeated requests from the province of B.C.

As DeSmog Canada first reported, the same emergency response plans were released in full to the public in the U.S. for portions of the pipeline that extend down into Washington State.

Redacted from the B.C. plans were contact details for company officials and first responders, information regarding spill response measures and cleanup equipment as well as spill response timelines for each unique segment of the pipeline.

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