Thursday, November 29, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"[The Canadian goverment] announce[s] their commitment to dealing with climate change and acknowledge that it is a serious issue, [But] they've closed virtually every funding avenue for climate and atmospheric science. They are deceiving the Canadian public."
~ climate scientist Andrew Weaver
In this issue:
- Industry Response to Blue Green Canada Report Based on Ideology, not Fact
- Federal Government Undermines Climate Progress
- AFCN Appeal Rejected by Alberta Court
- Spiritual Leaders Enter the Tar Sands Fray
- Grizzly Bears Left Out of Northern Gateway Hearings
- After Alarms Were Ignored, Concern Defines Kinder Morgan Info Sessions
- No Let Up in Concern Over Line 9
It’s difficult to understand some of the claims made by the tar sands industry. Last week, in response to Blue Green Canada’s new report on the better-than-oil employment benefits of investing in the clean energy sector, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) spokesman Travis Davies told E&E News that industry growth plans predict that tar sands development will create “in the order of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 25 years." Davies claimed that these jobs would be created not with taxpayer money, but industry investment alone, and that the oil and gas industry doesn’t receive any “special treatment” in the way of subsidies. “Using taxpayer dollars is [not],” he claimed, “a sustainable way of supporting new employment.”
This is a convenient, if not entirely accurate, portrayal of the relationship between the tar sands industry and the public coffers controlled by Canadian governments. In fact, despite CAPP’s position on government support of the energy sector through incentives and other financial tools, the tar sands industry for which he works has been supported by Canadian taxpayers for years.
A new report by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of union and environmental groups, refers to the work of the Global Subsidies Initiative to reveal that Canada's tar sands industry enjoys about $1.3 billion a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies from the Canadian government. Presumably these subsidies, which are coveted and fiercely defended by the oil industry, are seen as a way to promote Canada’s collective interests by promoting economic development and the jobs it creates for Canadians.
But Blue Green Canada has discovered that in the age of climate change, there are better and cleaner ways to create both clean sources of energy and the employment opportunities that Canadians desire and demand their elected representatives to help create. According to More Bang for the Buck: How Canada Can Create More Energy Jobs and Less Pollution, investing these subsidies in clean energy jobs would create almost ten times as many jobs as they do in the tar sands industry (approx.. 19,000 vs. 2600), while spewing far less climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere.
This investment by itself is not the answer to our employment woes, but just as it does in the tar sands industry, it creates an incentive for private investors and the market as a whole to build industries and create products that can make Canada a clean, healthy and responsible place to live and work.
"It's time to pull the plug on the $1.3 billion of taxpayers' money handed to big polluters each year," Gillian McEachern, deputy campaign director for Environmental Defence Canada, said. "Canadians can get more bang for our buck – more jobs, more wealth and better economic stability – by investing in industries that help prevent climate change rather than those that make it worse."
Given CAPP’s stated position on government subsidies as a means to support new employment, perhaps the tar sands industry should voluntarily decline the subsidies they now enjoy. This would allow the tar sands industry to carry on with its Brobdingnagian experiment in northern Alberta with a clean conscience, and provide more support for the clean energy sector, which will provide relatively more employment for Canadians, and set us on the path to the cleaner, more sustainable economy that Canadians keep saying they want.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
It may not be new news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is blithely dismantling any hope of Canada meeting its meager climate goals, but it’s interesting (and incredibly exciting) to see that the Canadian public finally is seeing through the charade. In a recent feature in Inside Climate News, Katherine Bagley chronicles the growing opposition to the Canadian government’s disingenuous war on science and climate action.
"They publicly announce their commitment to dealing with climate change and acknowledge that it is a serious issue,” Andrew Weaver told ICN, “but then they go ahead and do the exact opposite."
Weaver is a climate modeler at the University of Victoria and a lead author of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and he is tired of the doublespeak coming out of the Canadian government’s collective mouth. "They've closed virtually every funding avenue for climate and atmospheric science. They are deceiving the Canadian public."
There is more to it than simply pulling funding and shuttering research institutes. The Harper Conservatives also pulled Canada out of Kyoto and gutted environmental legislation to fast track hydrocarbon intensive energy development of all kinds. The Vancouver Sun reported that TransCanada's Coastal GasLink project, a 650-kilometre natural gas pipeline to Kitimat that would cross about 320 watercourses and the habitat of more than 100 species at risk, may not require a federal environmental assessment because of its recent, and decidedly convenient, changes to environmental laws.
"It's a travesty of the public trust," said Otto Langer, retired head of habitat assessment and planning for the federal fisheries department in B.C. and Yukon. "If we can't have an environmental review on a project of this sort, this is proof we have gutted Canada's environmental protection."
Meanwhile, the latest in a series of reports about the impending climate catastrophe was unveiled in Europe this week. The European Environment Agency just released a 300-page analysis of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in Europe. According to Grist, “It’s a road map on minute details of what Europe can expect on temperature, flooding, forest fires, soil quality, sea animals. It’s the Grays Sports Almanac of the continent through the year 2100,” and it includes some of the scariest maps you will ever see. Southern Europe, especially, will hardly be recognizable, with higher temperatures, less precipitation, decreased snowfall, rising sea levels, increased wildlife danger, smaller crop yields, and on the list goes.
Weaver knows better than anyone what the world can expect if Canadian governments’ dreams of hydrocarbon superpowerdom comes to fruition, and he has become so concerned that he has decided run for political office. Weaver is seeking the Green Party nomination in the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
“By running for the Green Party in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding, I have decided to do something I never thought I would do,” he told the Globe and Mail. “But with a rudderless provincial government and the potential for a landslide NDP victory in the upcoming election, I felt now was the time to get engaged to ensure that the principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability continue to be raised and discussed in the legislative assembly.”
And it’s not just about the environment, he told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s about evidence-based decision-making. I’ve spent 25 years informing policy as a scientist and now I’m hoping to help shape it.”
Evidence-based decision-making? Now that would be a welcome addition to public policy.
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (AFCN) just can’t get no respect. This week, the Alberta Court of Appeal rejected dismissed AFCN’s application for leave to appeal the Joint Review Panel’s decision not to review the adequacy of Crown consultation before deciding whether to approve Shell’s Jackpine Mine expansion project.
“Our rights are being overlooked and that is a truth that cannot be denied,” said Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN. “If there is a violation of our constitutionally protected treaty rights it should be dealt with before this project is found to be in the public interest. A project of this magnitude couldn’t possibly be in the public interest if our rights have not been upheld and we have not been adequately consulted.
According to Justice Frans Slatter, the joint review panel “is not required ... to make any determination as to ... whether the Crown has met its respective duties to consult ....” He said that since the First Nations were given an opportunity to raise their objections to Shell’s project with the panel, they could not issue a constitutional challenge.
“Who has better jurisdiction to deal with our rights and the adequacy of consultation more appropriately then the bodies that grant approval? Our rights are shuffled from agency to agency with no real remedy. There has been a complete devolution of the Crown’s duty to consult, pushing consultation into the hands of the proponents and downgrading First Nation rights. Our people are being failed by all levels of government.”
The battle if far from over. The AFCN is, as you can imagine, extremely disappointed with the decision, and is currently reviewing its options to address the lack of adequate consultation with respect to Shell’s tar sands project. Stay tuned.
Too often, the pros and cons of tar sands development are often argued on the merits of scientific information, which is often absent, inconclusive and/or contested. Spirituality, however, provides a foundation for dissent that is impossible to argue against.
Last week, Indigenous spiritual leaders from across the continent signed a declaration to protect Mother Earth from the impacts of tar sands development. According to Indian Country Today Media Network, the statement was signed by more than 20 spiritual chiefs at a Sundance in South Dakota, including members of the Lakota, Navajo, Apache, Mohawk, Dine, Aztec and Ojibwe nations.
“It is our responsibility to protect and care for these elements in accordance with our own sacred Laws and Traditions, and in doing so, maintain our spiritual relationship to the land, water, plants, animals, our ancestors, all of our relations and future generations,” reads the declaration. “We therefore will defend our land and exercise our own Laws and Traditions from all directions to oppose in all Tar Sands pipeline and tanker projects, and the Tar Sands development itself, all of which threaten the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of all of our relations.”
The statement was envisioned by Sundance Chief Rueben George, of the Tsleil Waututh Nation in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and signed at a ceremony hosted by Sicangu Lakota spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog.
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
At the National Energy Board hearings in Prince George, more gaps emerged in the federal government’s assessment of Enbridge’s proposal to build a pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast. Although the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline runs through grizzly bear habitat in west-central Alberta and central BC, Enbridge has provided no information on the potential impact of the proposed pipeline on grizzly bears in BC and Alberta.
The Alberta portion of the pipeline runs through two grizzly bear population units that are listed as “threatened,” while the BC portion of the pipeline runs through seven additional grizzly bear population units. At least one of these GBPUs, Nation, has been identified by the BC Ministry of Environment as having unsustainable human-caused mortality rates. Human-caused mortality rates in this GBPU between 2004 and 2009 were 80 per cent higher than the rate deemed sustainable by the BC government.
(Kinder Morgan’s Transcanada pipeline proposal also passes through grizzly bear habitat in both Alberta and BC, including Jasper National Park. It would pass through two grizzly bear population units, one in Alberta and one in BC, that are currently designated as threatened.)
And yet, when Haisla lawyer Jennifer Griffith asked federal government witnesses from Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) about potential impacts of the pipeline on grizzly bears, they don't have any expertise in that area. Griffith was also reminded that only information filed by the government was eligible for cross-examination. According to an article in the Prince George Citizen, the fact that the provincial government decided not to provide evidence to the Joint Review Panel on the potential impacts of the pipeline on the province’s grizzly bear population, “the dangers the bears face could wind up unanswered.”
Joy Thorkelson, representative of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union, got a similar answer when she asked about gaps in the federal government's response to Enbridge's application related to freshwater fisheries. Thorkelson expressed concern about the socio-economic impacts on the commercial fishery dealing with freshwater species, and the impact on spawning grounds if chemical additives from the project leak into salmon-bearing rivers or streams.
But DFO had not submitted any information on these issues, so Thorkelson was reminded that she was limited to asking questions about what is on the record, not what's missing in government's response to Enbridge's application. "It's a real Catch-22,” Thorkelson told the Prince George Citizen after concluding her questioning of federal government witnesses. “Because they have evidence, they say their evidence comes to a certain conclusion, but they've left many, many things out of their report and they've given a positive go-ahead to Enbridge."
Following a National Energy Board conclusion that operators of Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain pipeline ignored warning alarms for three-and-half hours during an Abbotsford oil spill, the company’s info sessions about their proposal to twin the pipeline between Alberta and Burnaby continue to be met with concern by locals – including the school board.
Trans Mountain mainline right-of-way runs through two Burnaby school district properties: Stoney Creek and Forest Grove. The right-of-way is adjacent to a playing field at one school, and beneath a community school out front of a second school.
School board chair Larry Hayes wants Kinder Morgan to come up with a plan to deal with potential oil spills at local schools close. "We are going to be renewing our consultation with Kinder Morgan,” Hayes told Burnaby Now. “They would know the issues and know what's probably required in a safety plan to deal with the potential risk, so that's going to be something we are going to be proactive in doing."
Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE) started asking about school safety plans in the event of an oil spill last week when they discovered that the Trans Mountain pipeline runs beneath the Stoney Creek school grounds, where Kinder Morgan held its first local information session on the pipeline expansion plan.
The Big Smoke has just waded into the debate about Enbridge Pipelines intention to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline between from Sarnia and Montreal, so it can carry diluted tar sands crude to the east coast. Toronto City Council passed a motion this week to have the Toronto Region Conservation Authority produce a report on the risks of shipping dilbit through the city. The motion also asked the Toronto city manager to liase with the City of Hamilton and other organizations.
Further east, an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette provided a list of “good reasons” why Quebecers should “question this project.”
- Reason #1: Enbridge is the company behind the Kalamazoo oil spill. It took 17 hours for Enbridge to notice the rupture, in spite of alarms.
- Reason #2: More than two years later, the Kalamazoo spill cleanup is ongoing.
- Reason #3: It could happen here. Line 9B is similar in age and structure to the one that burst in the Kalamazoo spill.
- Reason #4: The oilsands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
- Reason #5: Air quality in Montreal will suffer.