Martin Olszynski

New Fisheries Act Reverses Harper-era ‘Gutting’

New Fisheries Act Reverses Harper-era ‘Gutting’

Canada’s fishery laws are back — well, on the first step to being back, at least. On Tuesday morning, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc officially announced the introduction of an heavily amended Fisheries Act, the key piece of legislation that was gutted in 2012 by the federal Conservatives. And fishery law experts are thrilled.

The government’s made good on its promises,” said Linda Nowlan, staff lawyer and head of the West Coast Environmental Law’s marine program. “They’ve not only restored lost protections, especially for fish habitat, but they’ve also introduced a number of modernizations that were long overdue.”

It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It

Alberta oilsands tailings ponds, Alex MacLean

For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.

That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.

Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.

Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.

It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.

Can Canada Save Its Fish Habitat Before It’s Too Late?

Salmon

Thirteen years ago, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued almost 700 authorizations to projects that would negatively impact fish habitat, mostly in the resource extraction sector: forestry, mining, oil and gas.

By last fiscal year, that number had dropped to 74.

One would think that’s a positive sign. Perhaps the DFO approved far fewer projects, echoing its ambitious 1986 commitment to “no net loss” of fish habitat?

That wasn’t the case.

Thanks to a number of changes — mostly via the “Environmental Process Modernization Plan” of the mid-2000s and the Conservative Party’s industry-led gutting of the Fisheries Act in 2012 — most projects are now “self-assessed” by proponents.

Over the same span, the DFO’s budget was repeatedly slashed, increasingly undermining the department’s ability to monitor and enforce contraventions with “boots on the ground.”

Harm is happening at the same levels that it always has been,” says Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary who specializes in environmental, water and natural resources law. “It’s just that fewer and fewer proponents are coming to DFO and asking for authorization. That’s the reality on the ground.”

Oilsands Monitoring Programs Collecting But Not Using Data, Report Finds

Oilsands monitoring programs aren’t quite living up to expectations.

That was the conclusion presented by a six-person expert panel in Edmonton on February 22.

The two organizations that were examined — the Joint Canada-Alberta Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) and Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) — have improved in performance in recent years, according to the review.

But the organizations have largely failed at actually conducting analysis of the data collected about the four component areas: air, water, wildlife contaminants and toxicology, and biodiversity and land disturbance.

In addition, both JOSM and AEMERA have lacked clear mandates, a fact that has “severely hampered” success.

“The work of the Panel was made more challenging by the absence of an overarching document that clearly articulates the policy and scientific goals of the Governments of Canada and Alberta for oil sands monitoring,” according to the report, which was commissioned by AEMERA and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Can Alberta’s Oilsands Monitoring Agency Be Saved?

Oilsands air pollution

“Transparent,” “credible, “world-class” — those are just a few of the words that have been deployed to detail the aspirations of the one-year-old organization tasked with monitoring the air, water, land and wildlife in Alberta.

But there are a lot of questions about whether the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), funded primarily by industry, has lived up to its goal to track the condition of the province’s environment.*

Unlike the Alberta Energy Regulator, which the new NDP government is considering splitting into two agencies to separate its conflicting responsibilities to both promote and policy energy development, AEMERA hasn’t spent much time in the public spotlight — yet.

Last October, Alberta’s auditor general slammed the agency for releasing its 2012-2013 annual report in June 2014, well after when it should have been released. The auditor general also said the report “lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies.”

‘Dereliction of Duty’: Chair of Site C Panel on B.C.’s Failure to Investigate Alternatives to Mega Dam

Harry Swain, chair of Site C panel

Part 1 of DeSmog Canada’s exclusive sit-down interview with Harry Swain, the man who chaired the panel tasked with reviewing BC Hydro’s Site C dam, sparked a firestorm of activity on Tuesday.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett responded to Swain’s critique in the Globe and Mail, the B.C. NDP issued a statement on Swain’s comments and an environmental law expert called the statements “unprecedented.”

Martin Olszynski, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary, said Swain’s comments are extremely rare.  

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a panel member has spoken about a previous report in this manner,” Olszynski, an expert in environmental assessment, said. “To my knowledge, it’s unprecedented.”

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