Thursday, December 06, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Canada, the oilsands, and the pipelines don't need more public relations to vaccinate them from angry public opinion; they need a good dose of public policy to cure the disease.”
~ David McLaughlin, the former president and CEO of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
In this issue:
- What Does Doha Tell Us About Canada’s Commitment to Stop Climate Change?
- How to Fix the Tar Sands
- Oil Industry Runs the Show in Canada
- Indigenous Leaders Increase Pressure to Have Their Voice(s) Heard
- McKibben's Climate Math Inspires Students to Divest Dirty Stocks
- Northern Gateway Threatens Kermode Bear
- Potential Keystone XL Decision Maker Makes Living off Dirty Oil
- Line 9 Puts Canadian Communities at Risk of Spills
- New Pipeline Website Highlights Landowner Issues
As more news roles in about the record-breaking loss of Arctic sea ice and record-breaking levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the world gathers at the latest climate change summit in Doha, Qatar, where Canada was once again ousted as one of the world’s greatest laggards in the effort to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
While Environment Minister Peter Kent tries to convince the world that, “The Government of Canada is committed to working with our partners to find global solutions to the global climate change problem,” a survey from the environmental umbrella group Climate Action Network indicates Canada has the worst climate change policy of all wealthy nations, and the fourth-worst among all nations.
Canada ranked 58th out of 61 countries surveyed in the latest issue of Climate Action Network’s 2013 Climate Change Performance Index, ahead of only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and “still shows no intentions to move forward on climate policy and thereby leave its place as the worst performer of all western countries,” according to the index’s preamble.
In response, the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) released a technical report called Commitment Issues, which details “Canada’s colossal failures to meet its international commitments” to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gases. According to a blog post by youth delegate Alana Westwood, who apologized for Canada’s lack-lustre record, “Canada not only withdrew from the Kyoto Accord at last year’s COP, but its low emissions targets prevent developed countries who are still signatories to the accord from increasing their ambition. Canada is not on track to meet its own emission reductions targets, with the tar sands largely to blame. Yet again at COP, [Canada] is letting the world down.”
For the first time since taking his position as Canada’s environment minister, Kent met with climate-focused civil society groups at Doha. (By comparison, Kent has met with the fossil fuel lobby over 48 times during his tenure as Canada’s Commander in Chief of the Environment.) A variety of organizations delivered messages to Kent on behalf of various constituencies, including the global youth movement, First Nations, faith-based groups, labour, and countries especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Joy Kennedy, representing the United Church of Canada, told Kent that climate justice requires Canada to “shoulder a greater share of the economic burden because of access to greater means, and our historic role. We have a moral imperative to act. Yaaseen Ahmed, from the Maldivian Youth Climate Network, said, “We are deeply hurt and in shock with the lack of regard for the rights of our people, who have least contributed to climate change but are facing the worst consequences.” National Geographic has called the Maldives, a string of islands no more than two metres above sea level, Ground Zero for the impacts of climate change.
Given the lack of action in Canada, Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, urged U.S. President Barak Obama to step in and drag Canada forward on climate change. “Canada has abandoned its responsibilities and reneged on its commitments to meaningfully address climate change, and it is using the United States as its excuse. According to Canada’s political leaders, our ambition can only increase after yours to ensure economic harmony with our largest trading partner. If the United States takes action, Canada would no longer be able to use your policies as a shield to divert blame for our lackluster climate action. Canada would be forced to shape up and build a just and sustainable economy, part of the generation that the President stated would ‘free us from the tyranny of oil.’ On the global scale distancing the United States from Canada, the United Nations climate talks consistent pariah, could open the political space for a just and ambitious global climate deal by 2015.”
The good news is, there's nowhere to go but up.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
Figuring out how to “fix” the tar sands is no easy task. There is much to be critical of, especially in the age of climate change. There are the massive toxic tailings ponds, for instance, and declining caribou populations that are being pushed to the brink of local extinction. And then there are greenhouse gas emissions, that are increasing faster than bacteria in a tub of warm meat.
Whether we can ever make them ethical, clean and sustainable is doubtful, but as Tzeporah Berman made clear in a recent column in the Globe and Mail, the oil industry and the Canadian governments that regulate them could certainly do a better job.
“We keep hearing that the damaged land is being reclaimed, that we’re going to make a lake district out of toxic sludge pits known as tailings ponds,” wrote Berman, who has been battling corporations and governments for decades. “A wetland-dominated forest out of old mines.”
“How many toxic ponds have actually been certified as reclaimed? Zero. How much land has been successfully reclaimed? 0.1 per cent.
“There are still no laws governing the amount of toxins spewed into the water. There’s no plan to reduce global warming pollution. There are no hard limits around the amount of water that can be withdrawn from the Athabasca River, yet the oil sands are allowed to divert from the river the equivalent of seven times the annual water use by the city of Edmonton. The oil sands have not been ‘fixed.’ Just the opposite.”
The most frustrating part, Berman says, is that we already know how to clean up some parts of the oil sands process. We know how to upgrade bitumen without creating those nasty, risky tailings ponds, but as the oil industry admits, they won’t do it until the government makes them do it. We need to put make polluting expensive and demand higher royalties. We need to think like an owner, as Peter Lougheed once quipped. And not any owner: an owner intent on transitioning away from dirty oil and toward a clean energy future.
“To truly fix the oil sands,” Berman concludes, “we need our government to actually govern – that is, to protect the public interest by regulating polluting companies. Otherwise, it’s hard to make the financial case for companies to spend the money to improve their environmental performance when their competitors may not.”
Instead, the Alberta government has embraced some of the lowest royalties and some of the weakest environmental legislation in the world. The federal government, meanwhile, is trying to race Alberta to the bottom of the barrel, eliminating or weakening the environmental rules and policies that have kept Canadians and their environment safe for decades.
At the same time, both the oil industry and Canadian governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and public relations – propaganda – to convince Canadians there are no problems, rather than investing that money in solutions to the immense problems before us. In what can only be called a grand case of industrial hubris, Syncrude it trying to convince us it can turn Base Mine Lake (sic) – which is really a toxic tailings pond larger than many of Alberta’s natural lakes – into a clean and healthy body of water. There is little evidence it will work, and plenty to indicate it won’t, and it will take decades to figure out who is telling the truth. Meanwhile, development continues apace and the toxic ponds continue to grow.
“Canada, the oilsands, and the pipelines don't need more public relations to vaccinate them from angry public opinion; they need a good dose of public policy to cure the disease,” wrote David McLaughlin in a recent op-ed. McLaughlin is the former president and CEO of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. “Canada needs the wealth from the sensible exploitation of all our resources, including the oilsands. But until we take the same approach domestically as we are globally, with this sector regulated or priced as part of an ‘all-emitters in’ policy, Canada will remain poles apart from much of the world when it comes to climate change.
As Berman wrote, we all want to believe it’s possible to just fix the problems associated with tar sands development. Unfortunately, slick ads claiming all is well in FantasyLand offer nothing but a false sense of security for Canadians.
Meanwhile, a new report from the Polaris Institute illustrates what a tight rein the oil industry has on the political process in Canada. The report, "Big Oil's Oily Grasp - The Making of Canada as a Petro-State and How Oil Money is Corrupting Canadian Politics," points out that meetings between Big Oil and federal government officials since 2008 outstrips meetings with environmental organizations by a whopping 463 percent. Big Oil has met with the federal government 2,733 times since 2008.
This open-door policy has spiked over the last two years. Meetings between government officials and representatives of six major oil companies, including Enbridge and TransCanada, increased between September 2011 and September 2012, when the industry-friendly omnibus budget Bill C-38 made its debut. During that same period, the federal government met once with Greenpeace. In the last year alone, senior industry officials held 791 separate meetings with ministers, members of Parliament, and officials.
“To us, this shows a fundamental shift in our democracy from government working for the people to government working for private interests such as industry,” Richard Girard, the institute’s research co-ordinator and a co-author of the report, told the Globe and Mail. Girard added that the industry has clearly succeeded in its lobbying effort given the policy actions of the government.
While the Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation considers taking their constitutional challenge against Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion to the Supreme Court of Canada, indigenous people across Canada are turning up the pressure to ensure they have a say in decisions about tar sands development and the pipelines that would carry its dirty cargo across the continent.
And why shouldn’t they? They have an extraordinary amount of political power, which Big Oil and Canadian governments have either forgotten or chosen to ignore – at their peril.
In Ottawa, a procession of more than 300 First Nation chiefs, leaders, elders, women, youth and community members tried to force their way in to the House of Commons chamber. Like First Nations people across the country, they were outraged with the federal government’s lack of respect for meaningful aboriginal consultation over resource development and recent changes to environmental legislation, which could have far-reaching impacts on Canada’s aboriginal people. But after a shoving match at the door, and a brief chat with Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, security guards locked them out of the Commons.
"We put Canada on notice today that we are a Sovereign Nation and that we won't be intimated by them ‘cause we know who we are and the Rights we have as Indigenous Peoples,” said Okimaw (Chief) Wallace Fox, who led the procession. Fox is the chief of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, whose traditional territory includes Ottawa, ON and Parliament Hill. “We are disgusted by this governments lack of respect shown to us today when trying to enter into the House. We were pushed and shoved by security and told we weren't welcome there. When a pipe is present in which it was today, no force is intended or appropriate. We are asserting our voices as Indigenous Peoples."
On the other side of the country, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is stepping up its efforts to oppose the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan’s TransCanada Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. “The government has a legal obligation to consult with First Nations, but there is currently no mechanism for that consultation to take place,” Tsleil-Waututh Chief Justin George said in a press release. “This project is one of many energy projects in British Columbia that have the potential to impact aboriginal rights and titles. We need to get the process right or each project will encounter the same challenges.”
It doesn’t stop there. The Beaver Lake Cree, which has started legal action against the Alberta and Canadian governments, has invited people of all stripes to join them in solidarity for a peaceful demonstration on December 10, 2012, the International Day of Human Rights. The will demonstrate against “against government and industry actions that use legislation and disregard free, prior and informed consent to further their agendas in the name of profit and progress, disregarding the natural law to live as one with Mother Earth.”
"As we all know the government and numerous corporations have been overriding and ignoring our basic human rights through policies, legislation and industry activities for profit,” reads the Idle No More website. “The government and industries have been failing to implement the United Nations Declaration Rights of Indigenous People. They have also been ignoring and pacifying the need to be responsible and live as one with Mother Earth.”
The demonstration will take places at 11 a.m. at the Edmonton the Law Courts (near Winston Churchill Square). For more information, visit the Idle No More website.
The Do the Math Tour has taken the United States by storm, with students at more than 100 colleges and universities all across the country demanding that their institutions divest themselves of the dirty oil, coal and gas stocks that support their endowments.
While civil organizations have been working on some version of a divestment campaign for years, the recent escalation has largely been the handiwork of 350.org, a growing movement focusing on limiting climate change and building a clean energy future. It’s leader, writer-turned-advocate Bill McKibben, has been touring the country on the Do the Math Tour, encouraging students to begin local divestment initiatives focusing on 200 energy companies. The goal is to turn global warming action into the moral issue of this generation, just as divesting from apartheid South Africa and tobacco companies was a generation ago.
And they are listening. A front page article in the New York Times (which was the most emailed story in the nation’s leading newspaper) listed several schools where divestment campaigns are in full swing. At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, students are asking the administration to sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. “We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich., told The Times.
"Bottom line, for a college or university, you do not want your institution to be on the wrong side of this issue," Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Maine, told Inside Climate News. Unity became the first college to authorize divestment using 350.org's guidelines last month. "We realized that investing in fossil fuels was an unethical position, especially considering our focus on environmental issues."
The story is repeating itself from the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast. At Williams College in the Berkshires, students are targeting the three percent of the college’s $1.8 billion endowment fund directly invested and managed by a Board of Trustees investment committee, to make sure none of that money is invested in coal.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Brown Divest Coal (BDC), is a fast-growing student group, is demanding that Brown University divest from the 15 U.S. coal companies with the worst environmental and social records. The “Filthy Fifteen,” as the BDC has dubbed these companies, includes Duke Energy, American Electric Power and Peabody Energy.
At Standford, the party is just getting started. Undergrads, graduate students, faculty, staff and alumnus attended the first march for a fossil free endowment – which is $17 billion at Stanford – as soon as Bill McKibben’s Do the Math roadshow left town.
“We've felt serious momentum along this transcontinental roadshow — but the numbers of full-on divestment campaigns got larger faster than we could have dreamed,” said 350 co-founder Bill McKibben. “A year notable for ice-melt, parched crops, and superstorms is going out with a different kind of bang: an explosion in activism, aimed squarely at the rogue fossil fuel industry.”
Why divest? Because, according to a new ad, Exxon Hates Your Children. According to Oil Change International, “if you judge Exxon and other fossil fuel companies not by the words on their press releases, but by their actions and predictable consequences, Exxon and all other oil, gas and coal companies, then they are actively seeking and profiting from finding more fossil fuels every day – despite the fact that even the normally conservative International Energy Agency says that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep two thirds of those fossil fuels we have already found in the ground.”
“To Exxon, your children’s safe futures stand in the way of their massive profits. They peddle influence, throw their money around, and lobby their way to more subsidies, more obscene profits … and a more dangerous future for the rest of us.”
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
As if the risks and threats posed by Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline weren’t piled a mile high already. Now a new report by B.C. bear biologist Wayne McCrory has documented a new downside to the efforts to pipe bitumen to the West Coast and then barge it by supertanker to global markets.
According to McCrory’s report, tanker traffic associated with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project poses “significant, cumulative, adverse, and immitigable impacts” to the greatest coastal habitat for B.C.’s iconic white spirit bear. The Vancouver Sun points out that 20,690-hectare Gribbell Island — “the mother island of the white bear,” south of Kitimat — is at particular risk in the case of a bitumen spill.
“There is every reason to believe that Kermode bears on Gribbell Island will cumulatively suffer high mortality and a severe population decline from a major oil spill within perhaps 100 to 200 kilometres or more of the island,” McCrory wrote. “If the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is approved, a major tanker oil spill poses a major conservation threat by likely causing mortality to most if not all of this rare genetic subpopulation on Gribbell Island, found nowhere else in the world.”
McCrory has submitted the report to the federal Joint Review Panel investigating the Enbridge project. At least the Kermode is on the radar. Neither Enbridge, nor the B.C. and Canadian governments bothered to consider the project’s impacts on grizzly bears.
Life is complicated, isn’t it? Just ask Susan Rice, who thought she was doing the right thing for her financial future by investing heavily in hydrocarbons, particularly those companies in the business of extracting and transporting tar sands oil.
Now that she’s the front-runner to be Obama’s Secretary of State, however, her financial foresight has landed her in hot water. Rice, who would oversee the decision about whether or not to allow the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, owns $500,000 of TransCanada stock and $1 million worth of shares in each of TransAlta, Encana, Enbridge, Cenovus and Imperial Oil.
According to NRDC’s OnEarth, “If confirmed by the Senate, one of Rice’s first duties likely would be consideration, and potentially approval, of the controversial mega-project. Rice's financial holdings could raise questions about her status as a neutral decision maker.”
“About a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel -- including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine. That includes Enbridge, which spilled more than a million gallons of toxic bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 – the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.”
"What's most important is that she rid herself of her holdings in TransCanada and other tar sands-related companies,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, NRDC's director of international programs. “And we're confident she will do that," Casey-Lefkowitz said taking the Keystone XL decision out of the State Department's hands, as other anti-pipeline advocates have urged, wouldn't necessarily be a solution, because numerous federal agencies need to provide input on the process.
"What's most important is that we have a good, thorough review done," Casey-Lefkowitz said. The State Department's previous evaluation of the project was inadequate, she said, because it didn't take into account the potential climate impacts, pipeline safety issues, or harm to air and water quality from refining tar sands oil.
A trio of environmental groups have asked the National Energy Board to undertake a full environmental review of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse Line 9 to pipe bitumen crude eastward, from Sarnia to Montreal and beyond.
Pipeline giant Enbridge recently filed to seek approval to reverse its Line 9B pipeline to bring more dangerous tar sands oil eastward to Montreal for export. Groups in Canada and the U.S., including Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada and Natural Resources Defense Council, are calling on the Canadian National Energy Board to review the full scope of this tar sands proposal.
“This project could turn Ontario into a sewer for dangerous tar sands oil, putting communities at risk of oil spills into drinking water and onto farmland in the most populated part of the country,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence. “And all this to allow big oil to increase tar sands production and export.”
The proposed Line 9 pipeline project would pass through 99 towns and cities and 14 Indigenous communities in Ontario and Quebec. Several municipalities, including Hamilton, Toronto, Burlington and Mississauga situated along Line 9’s route have already taken the first step to protect the interests of their citizens, seeking answers on increased risks to water, health, and the natural environment from the proposal.
”Enbridge’s plan to reverse its Line 9 pipeline opens the door to piping the toxic tar sands through Ontario and Quebec for export. Enbridge has previously denied any intention of bring tar sands oil east. However, the regulatory documents they filed today clearly opens the door to more dangerous tar sands oil,” said Dr. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.
In yesterday’s formal application to Canada’s National Energy Board, Enbridge seeks approval to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline to Montreal to transport “heavy crude” oil from western Canada to the east coast, increasing the flow of the pipeline by 25 per cent to 300,000 barrels per day. In the application announcement, Enbridge and the National Energy Board acknowledge the line may carry “heavy crude” and its purpose would be to access “western Canadian crude.”
The National Energy Board is required to review all major pipeline projects or modifications in Canada, and has already approved reversal of part of Line 9 between Sarnia, Ontario and Montreal. Citizens from the U.S. and Canada had previously submitted 41,000 comments to the Canadian National Energy Board opposing the first phase of the pipeline reversal.
It is widely understood this filing is part of a larger oil export plan to move tar sands out of Alberta, east through Montreal and down to Maine, raising similar concerns south of the border.
“Communities all over New England are rightfully concerned about increased risks to rivers and lakes from tar sands pipelines, with dozens of citizen-organized educational meetings and protests occurring over the last six months, and thousands of people in the region signing petitions against the pipeline,” said Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In response to the risks inherent in the project, the Council of Canadians has organized a good old fashioned Town Hall Meeting in Ottawa, so locals can learn how Line 9 relates to the push-back against pipelines on the West Coast and what they can do to oppose it.
- Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians
- Caleb Behn, a Dene activist featured in upcoming documentary Fractured Land
- Ben Powless, Mohawk from Six Nations and rep for Indigenous Environmental Network
- Ron Plain, activist from Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Environmental Policy Analyst for Southern First Nations Secretariat
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12, at the Centretown United Church (507 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON).
The Pipeline Observer, a new website, has been launched to help landowners understand the costs and risks associated with pipeline development in Canada. The website tracks information, news articles and commentary on pipeline developments and their impacts on landowners. The hope is to facilitate discussion and provide landowners with the tools they need to understand the risks associated with pipeline development.