Environmental Issues in Canada


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

There are many environmental issues in Canada and below you will find an overview of the major themes that arise time and again, followed by our latest news and analysis on the subject.


Canada's Oilsands 

One of the most controversial environmental issues in Canada is the extremely high-carbon process of extracting oilsands deposits found in Northern Alberta.

According to Environment Canada, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for climate change) is Canada's oil industry. In a report released in 2014, Environment Canada found that oil and gas now accounts for one-quarter of all of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

Oilsands Pipelines

Much of the oil extracted in Alberta's oilsands reserves is shipped by pipelines in a raw form called “bitumen.” As oil companies look to expand their extraction operations in the oil sands, they need to expand their capacity to ship the oil to global markets. 

There is an ongoing public debate about whether new pipelines should be built in Canada. Concerns include global climate change, pipeline leaks, First Nations treaty rights and oil tanker spills. One of the most high-profile pipeline debates has centered around the Keystone XL pipeline that would have shipped oil from the oilsands to refineries in the United States. On November 6, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama officially stopped the Keystone pipeline from being built by stating he would not issue the necessary presidential permit.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has been proposed for nearly 10 years, but is also essentially dead after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to power on a promise to implement a ban on oil tankers on the north coast of B.C. The B.C. Supreme Court also ruled early in 2015 that the province of B.C. had failed to adequately consult affected First Nations.

Other oilsands pipelines are still in the environmental assessment stages: TransCanada's Energy East pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Quebec and Atlantic Canada and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Burrard Inlet near Vancouver.

Coal Exports

Canada is responsible for shipping large amounts of coal overseas. When it comes to climate change, the continued burning of coal is a major concern because it is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, when compared to other fossil fuels. When burned, coal also produces toxic pollutants like mercury. 

While coal exports are not accounted for in domestic reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, Canada is in essence exporting greenhouse gas emissions to other countries like China, Japan and India. Canada also still uses coal to generate a portion of its electricity, but Ontario has already phased out coal use, and Alberta has committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

A major issue is the proposed expansion of coal export facilities on Canada's Pacific coast, which would export thermal coal from Wyoming's Powder Basin, creating both local pollution issues as well as the global implications of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Image credit: Ben Powless on Flickr.


DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on environmental issues in Canada


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The National Energy Board is fundamentally broken.

That was a point repeatedly highlighted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 federal election — and one confirmed for many with recent revelations that former Quebec premier Jean Charest had privately met with senior NEB officials while on the payroll of TransCanada.

A cute graphic of white houses with rooftop solar panels is featured on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website. “Solar Homes Sell for More Money,” the government tells viewers, citing studies that show solar adds an average US$15,000 to the resell value of a home.

Just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement increases a home’s value, solar has been shown to boost home valuation and shorten a home’s time on the market.”

In contrast to the U.S. government’s cheery promotion of solar, BC Hydro’s webpage called “Solar Power & Heating for Your Home” has a blurry photograph of a man putting on a sweater, and technical information that begins with the somber news that it will take a B.C. homeowner at least 20 years to recoup the cost of a solar installation.

Tweet: .@BCHydro warns ‘Do your research on the practicality of going solar in B.C.’ http://bit.ly/2bGnDvq #bcpoliDo your research on the practicality of going solar in B.C.,” advises the webpage.

It’s 31 degrees outside and I was planning to go to the lake this afternoon — and I’d be willing to hazard a guess that many British Columbians are in the same boat.

Tweet: .@christyclarkbc’s #ClimateActionPlan comes out 6 months late in the summer so no one will notice http://bit.ly/2bktGUS #bcpoli #dogdaysThat’s exactly why B.C. Premier Christy Clark chose tomorrow to release her Climate Action Plan — originally scheduled for release nearly six months ago.

Politicans often “take out the trash” on Fridays during the dog days of summer and this time is no different.

The plan — according to a leak in the Globe and Mail today — will fail to increase the carbon tax or update greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Those were two of the cornerstone recommendations from the province’s own expert committee.

The depths of August on a Friday afternoon is not the time you release a plan that you want a lot of people to pay attention to,” said Josha MacNab, B.C. director for the Pembina Institute.

By Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Tweet: .@BCHydro falls short compared to AB’s protection of citizens re: fracking near hydro dams http://bit.ly/2byNYK5 #bcpoli #SiteCEfforts by BC Hydro to ban potentially destructive natural gas company fracking operations in the vicinity of its biggest dams fall well short of what an Alberta hydro provider has achieved, raising questions about why British Columbia isn’t doing more to protect public safety.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show that BC Hydro officials have feared for years that fracking-induced earthquakes could damage its dams and reservoirs.

Senior dam safety officials with the public hydro utility even worried for a time that natural gas companies could drill and frack for gas directly below their Peace River dams, which would kill hundreds if not thousands of people should they fail.

It sounds like a renewable energy utopia of the distant future.

Twelve million houses with roofs covered in solar panels. Wind turbines whipping the equivalent energy of 170 Site C dams onto the grid. A popular type of hydro called pumped storage, which often leaves a pinky toe of an environmental footprint compared to the imprint of large dams and their reservoirs.

But this is no futuristic climate-friendly Shangri-La. It’s all part of the U.S. government’s national Hydropower Vision for the next 15 to 35 years, a report unveiled in late July at the world’s largest annual hydro event in Minneapolis.

Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the report outlines a very different energy path than the “one dam fits all” approach of the B.C. government, whose single-minded focus on building the $8.8 billion Site C dam on the Peace River Tweet: BC gov’s single-minded #SiteC focus blew the @CanGEA right out of the province http://bit.ly/2aM6RtE @ChristyClarkBC #SiteC #bcpoliblew the Canadian Wind Energy Association right out of the province earlier this year.

Restoring oversight. Meaningful participation. Rebuilding trust.

Such phrases sounded just so good when the federal Liberal Party first detailed its plan to address the environmental assessment and consultation process for major projects like interprovincial pipelines and LNG export terminals.

But such rhetoric may already be critically undermined thanks to way the government has approached public consultations in its environmental review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which would almost triple the Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels/day.

Such missteps include but are certainly not limited to: appointing a former LNG lobbyist and partner with Kinder Morgan to sit on the panel, providing inadequate notice to the public and First Nations of the actual hearings, and failing to mandate that the consultations actually have any bearing on the final decision by cabinet.

Oil spill on North Saskatchewan River

It’s been a full 10 days since a Husky Energy pipeline spewed 250,000 litres of heavy oil and diluent into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Sask.

But it’s still totally unclear if the incident — which has forced North Battleford and Prince Albert to shut down their water intake systems and Muskoday First Nation to declare a state of emergency — was an accident or a pre-meditated false flag by a crew of anti-pipeline activists disguised as bumbling politicians and oil execs attempting to prove why Canada’s pipeline approval and regulation process is fatally flawed.

We jest, obviously.

But the situation has indeed come at an incredibly bad time for pipeline companies, given that public hearings for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion are underway (with that process already heavily criticized), while those for TransCanada’s Energy East are set to begin on August 8.

There just aren’t enough lawyers in B.C. to fight all the environmental battles First Nations, individuals and groups face on a regular basis in the province, according to University of Victoria lawyer Chris Tollefson.

As a solution, Tollefson, the founder of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, and a handful of legal experts and litigators recently launched a new public interest environmental law outfit that will take on some of the most powerful forces in B.C., from Malaysian-owned Petronas to government ministries to BC Hydro.

The new legal non-profit, the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL), will focus on environmental litigation, legislative reform and, as Tollefson describes it, “training up the next generation of young public interest environmental lawyers.”

Tollefson, who served as a former president of Ecojustice, one of Canada's most prominent environmental legal non-profits, Tweet: There is more work than existing environmental law organizations can handle http://bit.ly/2aBXcoG #bcpolisaid there is more work than existing organizations can handle.

That sentiment is echoed by Bob Peart, executive director of Sierra Club BC, and one of the centre's first clients. 

“I think litigation is vital and it's so hard to move this government in any other way,” Peart told DeSmog Canada. “You can build up the wall of public noise as much as you like but litigation seems to be a lever they at least half listen to.”

The B.C. government is being taken to court for giving BC Hydro permission to move amphibian species along the banks of the Peace River during construction of the Site C dam.

The legal challenge, recently filed by Josette Weir and Sierra Club BC, asks for a judicial review of the government’s actions in June when a regional manager with the Tweet: FLNRO granted @BCHydro permission to perform amphibian salvage w/o proper permits http://bit.ly/2auxrHe #bcpoli #SiteC #cdnpoliMinistry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) granted BC Hydro permission to perform amphibian salvage without proper permits issued in accordance with the Wildlife Act.

The emergency permits, first revealed by DeSmog Canada, raise questions about the relationship between government ministries and BC Hydro, which is under pressure to keep to Premier Christy Clark's word to get the dam “past the point of no return” before the May 2017 provincial election.

This very long piece is the last of a four-part series on B.C.’s climate action plan. Part One addressed B.C.’s GHG reduction targets. Part Two addressed how that plan is at risk of being co-opted by Big Oil. Part Three took a closer look at the B.C. Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for the carbon tax. This analysis explores how the oil and gas industry, and especially the LNG industry, might financially benefit from hidden subsidies recommended by that advisory body.

Like so many other governments around the world, British Columbia’s Liberal government led by Premier Christy Clark has been duped by the barons of Big Oil.

Beguiled by the petroleum industry’s promises of new investment and jobs, the Clark government has repeatedly proved itself a patsy in acceding to the LNG industry’s every demand.

In the process, it has subjugated B.C.’s global-leading 2008 climate action plan to its misguided vision for the unchecked exploitation of non-renewable natural gas.

It has broken its own law, in failing to meet B.C.’s legislated targets for provincial greenhouse gas reductions.

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