James Wilt

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James Wilt is a freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta. Until recently, he was the staff writer at Fast Forward Weekly, the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, and has contributed to the likes of VICE Canada, AUX, OpenFile and Geez.

Battle to Protect Northern Yukon, Home of Pristine Peel Watershed, From Industry Heads to Supreme Court

Wind River in the Peel Watershed. Photo by Peter Maher

Almost 40 years ago, former federal judge Thomas Berger issued a final report in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, at the time Canada’s longest, largest and most comprehensive industrial project review.

The massive two-volume report was the product of exhaustive consultations between 1974 and 1977 with Dene, Métis and Inuit peoples, and recommended that the proposed construction of a gas pipeline be delayed for a full decade in the Northwest Territories and permanently barred from the Northern Yukon as it would “entail irreparable environmental losses of national and international importance.”

It turned out to be an incredibly pivotal moment in the history of Indigenous rights and ecological protections in Canada, arguably helping to preserve the largely pristine Northern Yukon, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea for the decades since.

And on March 22, 2017 — a single day before his 84th birthday — Berger will fight another battle on behalf of the region, this time representing three Yukon First Nations (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Na-cho Nyak Dun and Vuntut-Gwitchin) and two environmental organizations (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Yukon Conservation Society) in the Supreme Court of Canada over land-use planning in the Peel Watershed.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: 500 Days of Trudeau’s Broken Promises

Justin Trudeau Broken Promises Town Hall Electoral Reform

Reconcile with Indigenous peoples. Make elections fairer. Invest many more billions in public transit and green infrastructure. Take climate change seriously.

Those are just a few of the things that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party committed to in the lead-up to the 2015 election, offering up a fairly stark contrast to the decade of reign by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. And on Oct. 19, 2015, almost seven million Canadians voted for that Liberal platform. In his victory speech, Trudeau spoke of “real change” and “sunny ways” and “positive politics.”

Fast forward almost 500 days.

Many major promises have been broken, and sentiments seemingly abandoned. Frankly, it’s getting rather difficult to keep up with the amount of backtracking and shapeshifting happening in Ottawa.

How to Fix the National Energy Board, Canada's 'Captured Regulator'

The National Energy Board (NEB) is a “captured regulator” that has “lost touch with what it means to protect the public interest.”

That’s what Marc Eliesen — former head of BC Hydro, Ontario Hydro and Manitoba Hydro, and former deputy minister of energy in Ontario and Manitoba — told the NEB Modernization Expert Panel on Wednesday morning in Vancouver.

The bottom line is that the board’s behaviour during the Trans Mountain review not only exposed the process as a farce, it exposed the board as a captured regulator,” he said to the five-member panel.

Tweet: “Regulatory capture exists when a regulator ceases to be independent and objective.” http://bit.ly/2kUzoTv #cdnpoli #EnergyEast #TransMtnRegulatory capture exists when a regulator ceases to be independent and objective.”

The Trans Mountain pipeline was reviewed with what many consider a heavily politicized NEB process, one that Trudeau had committed to changing prior to issuing a federal verdict on the project.

Six Handy Facts About Alberta’s Coal Phase-Out

Alberta’s decision to phase out coal-fired power by 2030 represents a big shift (coal currently generates just over half of Alberta’s electricity), so it’s not exactly surprising that the phase-out has led to a fair bit of debate.

Throw in a complex lawsuit, threats of increasing power prices and a resurgence of the “clean coal” myth, and it becomes nearly impossible to figure out what’s actually going on.

Often missed in the conversation is the fact that 12 of the 18 coal-fired power plants in Alberta would have had to shut down by 2030 anyway under federal regulations introduced by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Quite a lot of other facts are getting lost in the noise as well, so DeSmog Canada delved into the research to come up with these six handy facts.

Groups Call for Overhaul of Energy East Review Due To ‘Apprehension of Bias’

On January 9, the National Energy Board (NEB) finally announced the new panel members that will review TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, replacing the trio that recused themselves in September 2016 after revelations that panel members had secretly met with a TransCanada consultant.

But within hours of news breaking about the new panel members, a notice of motion was filed by the environmental law firm Ecojustice on behalf of Transition Initiative Kenora, calling for the complete cancellation of the entire Energy East review based on an unresolved “reasonable apprehension of bias.”

The original panel presided over the review for years,” says Charles Hatt, one of the two Ecojustice lawyers representing Transition Initiative Kenora, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

All of those important decisions that they made along the way occurred after the conduct that gave rise to the reasonable apprehension of bias, after those meetings with the interested stakeholders.”

How the Spectre of Oil Trains is Deceptively Used to Push Pipelines

Either support new pipelines or your community will be incinerated by an oil-carrying train.

It sounds outrageous, but it’s been a foundational argument made by the pro-pipeline lobby ever since the horrific Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013.

This is almost like putting a gun to the head of communities, saying ‘well, if we don’t build our pipeline then we’re going to put more oil-by-rail traffic through your community,’ ” says Patrick DeRochie, program manager of Environmental Defence’s climate and energy program.

Tweet: ‘...the oil industry’s really manipulating legitimate public concerns about rail safety to push pipelines.’ http://bit.ly/2iRvNVt #cdnpoliI think that’s dishonest and the oil industry’s really manipulating legitimate public concerns about rail safety to push pipelines.”

On Dec. 20, 2016 — less than a month after the federal approvals of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clearly stated that “putting in a pipeline is a way of preventing oil by rail, which is more dangerous and more expensive.”

The fact that it’s an oft-repeated sentiment shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is a completely false binary.

How Saskatchewan is Driving Small Wind Producers Out of the Market

It would have been the first 100 per cent community-owned renewable power project in North America.

Located just south of Swift Current, Sask., the $90-million project would have generated 35 megawatts (MW) of electricity from wind turbines and solar panels with electricity sold to the provincial utility, SaskPower.

But SaskPower had other plans for the region — specifically, a $700-million natural gas power station.

On Dec. 2, it was announced that the gas power station — which will emit one million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, equivalent to putting 211,000 cars on the road for a year — wouldn’t require a federal environmental assessment.

Two days later, SaskWind, the provincial wind energy association and key promoter of the proposed Swift Current wind and solar project, shut down after four years of operation.

Five Handy Facts About Alberta’s New Carbon Tax

Installing wind turbine

As of January 1, 2017, Alberta’s carbon tax has officially arrived.

And, as expected, there’s plenty of misinformation swirling around about what the tax will mean for Alberta citizens and businesses.

Ultimately, the idea behind the carbon tax is to put a price on polluting the atmosphere. Tweet: #CarbonTax encourages activities we do want (investment, innovation) & reduces those we don’t (GHG emissions) http://bit.ly/2hHsaNe #ablegIt sends a market signal to encourage the economic activities we do want (investment and innovation), while reducing those we don’t want (greenhouse gas emissions).

Doesn’t sound totally outlandish, right? But what will a price of $20 per tonne of carbon emissions really mean for Albertans?

DeSmog Canada did some digging to find out. Here are five handy facts to help you get clear on what the new tax means for you.

What's Missing in Media Coverage of Canada's Pipeline Debate

If you read any commentary in the wake of Trudeau’s pipeline approvals, you might have come across the sentiment that pipeline opponents are “environmental NIMBYs” and “angry mobs” who are “stuck in bondage to strange ideologies…eyes ablaze with truth oil,” having “demolished trust in agencies.”  

Conversely, pipeline proponents are “realistic” and “rational,” able to offer up “informed discussion and courtesy” due to their nuanced understandings of economics and deep respect for regulatory processes.

In the current political climate, if you disagree with an economic model or the critical assumptions underlying it you court the risk of being labelled an extremist or emotional, or simply unqualified to participate in the debate,” says Jason MacLean, assistant professor of law at Lakehead University and author of two recent Maclean’s essays on climate policy.  

The Carbon Offset Question: Will Canada Buy its Way to the Climate Finish Line?

Alberta oilsands, tar sands Kris Krug

On Dec. 9, after much deliberation and political theatre, the federal government, eight provinces and three territories signed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba were notably absent from the list of signatories.

But also absent was an explanation of just how and how much Canada will rely on emissions trading  — technically known as internationally transferred mitigation outcomes — to meet its 2030 target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to 524 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, a reduction of 30 per cent compared to 2005 emission levels.

In its framework Canada vaguely pledged to “continue to explore which types of tools related to the acquisition of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes may be beneficial to Canada.”

Yet Canada may be eyeing the offset tool as a fundamental part of achieving emissions reductions, especially if global resource prices rebound and the oilsands expand to production levels allowable under newly approved pipelines.

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