Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada
TransMountain approved, Northern Gateway rejected
News

TransMountain approved, Northern Gateway rejected

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Prime Minister Trudeau is trying to have it both ways  in approving the TransMountain project even as his government rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline/tanker project in northern BC. Rejecting Northern Gateway and continuing the federal moratorium on oil tanker traffic along BC’s north coast is eminently sensible given that these coastal waters are ecologically priceless with abundant birds, whales, fish and marine mammals. They are also dangerous waters for ships: stormy seas in the Hecate Strait can reach 26 metres in height. A clean up of a major oil tanker spill in anything like these circumstances—even with the additional federal measures proposed a few weeks ago--is a fantasy. But the Salish Sea near Vancouver and Victoria is also ecologically priceless with abundant birds, whales, fish and marine mammals. Boundary Bay near the tanker shipping lanes is a critical Important Bird Area.  Increasing oil tanker traffic with TransMountain bitumen in the Salish Sea, with its powerful winter storms and narrow curving channels, will increase the risk of a catastrophic Exxon Valdez-size spill. How likely is it that governments and the shipowner could clean up a major spill before the oil does its deadly (for wildlife), polluting work? Skepticism is justified given the evidence of the small April 2015 oil spill in Vancouver harbour and the gigantic 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Both spills occurred in benign weather, on calm seas, and close to oil spill emergency responders.  Neither clean-up operation went well—to put it mildly. Canadians deserve serious answers to these questions.

Email Signup

Join the Movement!

Sign up to learn how you can protect the nature you love.

National Energy Board – Fix it or Scrap it?
News

National Energy Board – Fix it or Scrap it?

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Should the National Energy Board Act be amended to repair the damage that the previous federal government wrought in 2012?  Or should Parliament just scrap the NEB and rethink how pipelines and tanker projects are regulated—especially given the expected decarbonization of the global economy? The National Energy Board was created in 1959 in the wake of the Parliamentary scandal over the approval of construction of the Trans Canada natural gas pipeline. The furor over this pipeline led to the 1957 defeat of the Liberal government led by Louis St. Laurent and election to government of the Conservative Party led by John Diefenbaker. The NEB is certainly in crisis. Hampered by regressive amendments to the NEB Act imposeImage of a pipelined by  the former Conservative government, the NEB has mishandled the review of every major pipeline for a decade. First, the NEB approved the (at least) $15 billion Mackenzie Gas Project, only to have Imperial Oil refuse to start construction for six years (and counting). Then the NEB approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline/Tanker Project despite vigorous opposition by local First Nations and most other British Columbians, failing to properly study the risks  and consequences for nature of an Exxon Valdez-type oil tanker spill. The botched review process has now spawned numerous lawsuits. The NEB limited public participation in the hearings for the TransMountain Pipeline/Tanker project, and even denied registered intervenors (such as Nature Canada) the right to ask questions of proponent witnesses. Now the NEB is gearing up for hearings to tackle Energy East- the biggest proposed oil pipeline/tanker project of them all, stretching from Alberta to Saint John New Brunswick. Fix it or scrap it?. A brief prepared by Ecojustice carefully lays out amendments to fix the NEB Act. But are they enough? A better approach may be to establish an independent board tasked with reviewing and holding hearings  on  major development projects that require some federal decision. This board would replace the National Energy Board and the offshore petroleum boards but would examine major resource and industrial development projects as well as proposed pipeline and marine terminals for oil and gas. The board would focus on ensuring that any proposed project is ecologically as well as nomically and socially sustainable, is climate-friendly (low carbon emissions) and that the Crown’s legal obligations to consult and accommodate indigenous peoples have been met. Email Signup

Congratulations on Oil Tanker Ban on B.C.’s Northern Coast
News

Congratulations on Oil Tanker Ban on B.C.’s Northern Coast

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] Congratulations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who last week directed Marc Garneau, his Minister of Transport to implement a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s northern coast. Crude oil tankers will be prevented from transiting the waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska. The moratorium means that Enbridge will be prohibited from taking massive oil tankers into and out of Kitimat. And this means that the Northern Gateway pipeline, which has intended to bring oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Ocean, will not be built. Represented by the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) at University of Victoria, Nature Canada and BC Nature played a major role at the project hearings, introducing expert evidence on the project’s potential impacts on threatened woodland caribou and on terrestrial and marine birds. Our lawyers cross-examined Northern Gateway experts at four witness panels for a total of 25 hours. The big issue will be whether the government proposes to implement the ban through legislation or other means.  To be effective, a legislated moratorium would seem to be the best way to proceed. Email Signup

BC Nature to challenge Cabinet decision to approve Northern Gateway
News

BC Nature to challenge Cabinet decision to approve Northern Gateway

BC Nature, Nature Canada's affiliate organization in British Columbia, has announced its intention to file a lawsuit challenging the federal Cabinet's decision to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal. A key argument in BC Nature’s new lawsuit will be that the Joint Review Panel's report was so lacking in detail and analysis that it deprived Cabinet of the factual and legal basis for making an informed decision on the project. This is BC Nature's second lawsuit regarding the approval of the Northern Gateway proposal. In January 2014 it launched a legal challenge of the Joint Review Panel's decision to approve the pipeline and tanker proposal. Last month, BC Nature and Nature Canada expressed their profound disappointment at the federal government’s decision to conditionally approve Northern Gateway. The University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre represented BC Nature and Nature Canada at the hearings and brought several important procedural motions and secured the late admission into evidence of key material on threats to endangered caribou populations. Nature Canada and BC Nature were one of only two environmental coalitions that participated throughout the hearings. Nature Canada has chosen instead to focus our finite resources on being a voice for nature in the TransMountain pipeline proposal rather than join BC Nature in its Northern Gateway legal actions.

Leading environmental organizations concerned about federal government’s decision to give Northern Gateway the go-ahead
News

Leading environmental organizations concerned about federal government’s decision to give Northern Gateway the go-ahead

OTTAWA (June 17, 2014) Nature Canada and BC Nature have expressed their profound disappointment at the federal government’s decision to conditionally approve the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal. “It is most disconcerting that the federal government has chosen to gloss over the risk of oil spills and the environmental harm that such spills would cause,” said Stephen Hazell, interim executive director of Nature Canada. “The expert evidence before the Panel was that there is one in four chance that a pipeline has a major spill in its lifespan – those are worse odds than playing Russian roulette.” The University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre represented BC Nature and Nature Canada, at the hearings. Four separate Enbridge expert witness panels were questioned for a total of over twenty-five hours, at four locations, over a five month period. These cross-examinations addressed a variety of deficiencies with Enbridge’s application including caribou habitat analysis, species recovery following oil spills, chronic oiling and spills probability analysis. BC Nature and Nature Canada also brought several important procedural motions and secured the late admission into evidence of key material on threats to endangered caribou populations. Nature Canada and BC Nature were one of only two environmental coalitions that participated throughout the hearings. Nature Canada also expressed solidarity with First Nations and remote northern communities who have not been adequately consulted despite having the most to lose personally, economically and ecologically. - 30 - [one_half][separator headline="h2" title="Media Contacts:"] Paul Jorgenson, Senior Communications Manager 819-208-8230 (cellular) | pjorgenson@naturecanada.ca Monica Tanaka, Communications Coordinator 613-562-3447 ext 241 | mtanaka@naturecanada.ca[/one_half] [one_half_last][separator headline="h3" title="About Nature Canada"] Nature Canada is the oldest national nature conservation charity in Canada. Over the past 75 years, we’ve helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and the countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, we represent a network of over 45,000 members & supporters and more than 350 nature organizations in every province across Canada.[/one_half_last]  

Campaign update: Trans Mountain Pipeline project
News

Campaign update: Trans Mountain Pipeline project

[dropcap style="default"]Y[/dropcap]et another pipeline and tanker project to export bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to Asia or the United States is being reviewed by the National Energy Board (NEB). The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project would include approximately 990 km of new pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver and expand a marine terminal in the Fraser River delta. Traffic from this terminal through the Salish Sea would increase from the current five to an estimated 34 oil tankers per month. Nature Canada and BC Nature, represented by University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, are jointly intervening in the review to ensure that nature is well-represented at the NEB hearings, expected to commence in January 2015. The first job of our team of scientists and lawyers was to carefully review the project proposal –a 15,000-page application from the proponent Kinder Morgan—and submit so-called Information Requests to identify deficiencies in the project proposal. We asked Chris Tollefson (CT) from the Environmental Law Centre about the preparations for the hearings. Nature Canada (NC): Let’s start off by talking about Information Requests (IRs). What can you tell us about the process of submitting these requests, and what do you hope to achieve? Chris Tollefson (CT): Project proposals are long, technical documents, but they can at times be somewhat vague. Sometimes, a proposal will state something, but not provide enough supporting detail to give people a full understanding of what it actually means in a concrete way. Other times, a proposal might altogether fail to address an issue that we see as important to the overall viability of that project. Information Requests are a way for interveners and the public to fill in those gaps. Once the proposal is released, intervening groups can send the proponent questions on specific aspects of the proposal seeking clarification and additional information. NC: So what did your team see as some of the main issues that you sought out information on? CT: Some examples of big issues are project impact and oil spill impact on IBAs and marine birds, and impact on caribou habitat from the pipeline corridor. Examples of things we asked for additional information on are further details on how marine bird indicator species were chosen, baseline data to assess impacts on marine birds, how impact from chronic oiling on marine birds is assessed, and additional details on the pipeline’s impact on the Wells Gray and Groundhog caribou herds. By asking for this information, we hope to achieve greater certainty that this project is environmentally sound and, where the proponent has neglected to study areas that it should have, send them back to the drawing board to figure out a stronger, safer project. NC: What are the next steps? CT: The proponent will provide the requested information to intervenors by June 4. We and our experts will review those answers to determine whether they are adequate. If the proponent does not provide adequate information, we can ask follow up questions in the second round of IRs in the Fall. We will also get a chance to provide our own written evidence in November. According to the NEB’s schedule, the oral hearings will take place in early 2015, with the panel’s report expected in July 2015. NC: Finally, with respect to the oral hearings, the NEB has indicated that intervenors will not be able to ask questions of witnesses of the proponent or governments, unlike at the Northern Gateway hearings. What is the impact of this decision? CT: Cross-examination is perhaps the most important part of any hearing. It’s the only opportunity to get at the heart of the matter. For example, during the Northern Gateway hearings Enbridge experts argued that diluted bitumen floats, but during cross-examination it became clear that this was not always the case. It was also through cross-examination that we established that Enbridge’s main metric for assessing impacts on caribou mortality was completely flawed and without scientific basis. We believe that the NEB is making a serious error in eliminating cross-examination and we (and other groups) are considering ways to get this error remedied before it does irreparable harm to the process.

Why is downgraded protection for BC’s Humpback Whales an extra special concern?
News

Why is downgraded protection for BC’s Humpback Whales an extra special concern?

On April 19th the federal government published an order to down-list, or downgrade protection of, the North Pacific Humpback Whale population under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA). The order was published in Canada Gazette Part I, where proposed regulations gestate and briefly undergo consultation before becoming official under Gazette Part II. Until May 17th Canadians are invited to share their comments on this order here. But enough of the Civics lesson, why did this happen and what does it mean? [caption id="attachment_11066" align="alignleft" width="300"]Two North Pacific humpback whales cresting out of the water. Nature Canada, British Columbia Two North Pacific Humpback Whales off the BC coast.[/caption] It all began back in 2011 when Canada’s premier independent scientific advisory body on the state of wildlife, called COSEWIC or the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, assessed the available data for the North Pacific population of the Humpback Whale, found along the entire British Columbia coast and into northwest Alaska.  Based largely on an estimated increase of more than 50% in the North Pacific Humpback population over the last 64.5 years, COSEWIC determined that the species’ abundance has improved sufficiently to have its legal status downgraded from “threatened” to “special concern” under SARA. Despite what may appear to be semantics, this change has legal significance in that species that are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under SARA receive full protection under the general prohibitions of the Act as well as legal protection of their critical habitat. The Act still applies to species of “special concern” of course, but they do not enjoy the same degree of protection as the more ‘at-risk’ species listed. Whatever this change entails, we mustn't overlook the fact that COSEWIC doesn’t make such recommendations lightly. In recommending this down-listing to government, COSEWIC was careful to note that the North Pacific Humpback population is still not in the clear and coupled with the threats it still faces, cannot be considered a “recovered” population that’s free from risk. Therefore, it still warrants the federal government’s attention under SARA, and the science firmly supports that approach. [caption id="attachment_11067" align="alignright" width="375"]North Pacific Humpback Whale (iStock) North Pacific Humpback Whale off the Alaskan coast[/caption] But what about the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline? The Trans Mountain Pipeline? New oil tanker traffic up and down Canada’s west coast? What could these new developments, and the threats they could bring, mean for the North Pacific Humpback Whale? Surely they won’t be beneficial and with reduced protections for this population under SARA, there’s a narrower scope of potential impacts on the species and its habitat to be considered, mitigated or avoided altogether. Some critics say the government’s timing for this Order, whether it’s based on scientific advice or not, is suspect given the proposed mega-projects along the west coast. I would offer this perspective, however: the timing of this order is troubling because it demands that government keep a close eye on a species that’s not yet in the clear, and that may face new threats, all in the midst of significant government downsizing and loss of science capacity. Simply put, you can’t respond to changes in populations that you don’t monitor, and you don’t monitor without people. The timing of this government Order is unfortunate because it signals a loss of scientific and monitoring capacity for the species at the very time when threats to North Pacific Humpback Whales from ship strikes and tanker oil spills are very likely to increase. So that, in my view, is what this seemingly semantic change could mean for North Pacific population of Canada’s Humpback Whales.

Taxpayer Dollars Spent on Supporting Northern Gateway Bid
News

Taxpayer Dollars Spent on Supporting Northern Gateway Bid

Nature Canada is dismayed to learn that the federal government has spent $120 million on studies to help Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.  Yesterday, The Huffington Post and other outlets reported that leaked documents obtained by Green Party leader Elizabeth May seem to show taxpayers are footing the bill for two major studies on oil tanker safety for the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal that has not yet been approved. The Harper Government should listen to Canadians and stop subsidizing Northern Gateway. This would help save pristine coastal areas and it would have the added benefit of saving taxpayers $120 million at the same time. Spending $120 million to help Enbridge sell the Northern Gateway as “safer” is not a responsible use of taxpayer money. The simple truth is that there is no way to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline without carving through pristine British Columbia forest and risking huge swaths of coastal areas critical to birds and marine mammals. Nature Canada and B.C. Nature, supported by a University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre legal team, were active participants in the Northern Gateway pipeline review process over the past two years. During that time, we led evidence on the project's potential impacts on the Species At Risk Act listed woodland caribou and on terrestrial and marine birds, and cross-examined Northern Gateway experts at four witness panels for a total of 25 hours.  Nature Canada and many other nature conservation groups have shown that Northern Gateway's environmental assessment is deficient and incomplete for a variety of reasons. These include its failure to:

  • properly assess impacts on SARA listed woodland caribou,
  • provide a detailed baseline inventory of wildlife species impacted by the project,
  • analyze consequences of oil spills on marine bird populations, and
  • properly estimate the likelihood of an oil spill from tankers along the BC coast.

Nature Canada Selected as one of Canada’s Top Environmental Charities
News

Nature Canada Selected as one of Canada’s Top Environmental Charities

Volunteers
Last week, we were pleased to be named one of Canada’s top environmental charities for 2013 by Charity Intelligence Canada. In a report on the environmental sector, Charity Intelligence Canada looked at three of the most pressing issues facing Canada’s environment and selected seven charities that addressed these issues and achieved the best track record of results. “With our successes in getting official recognition of several key sites for environmental protection, we’ve had a very good year we can be proud of,” said Ian Davidson, Executive Director of Nature Canada. “We’re pleased to have this hard work recognized by Charity Intelligence,” Davidson continued. Nature Canada was selected as a top performing environmental charity for its advocacy work on endangered species and habitat protection. The nomination is a nod to Nature Canada’s major educational program with Parks Canada and successful advocacy campaigns on the creation and better protection of National Parks and National Wildlife Areas, endangered species legislation and habitat stewardship. Nature Canada was actively engaged in the Northern Gateway Pipeline process as an advocate for nature and wildlife and was instrumental in bringing together conservationists from around the world for BirdLife International’s World Congress in Ottawa this past June.  However, the Charity Intelligence report recognizes that there’s still work to be done. Only 12.2% of Canada’s land is protected, ranking 16th out of 30 OECD countries. As a comparison, in the United States, 24% of land is protected. In terms of oceans, Canada ranks further down the list in 70th place in the protection of marine ecosystems. Fragile arctic ecosystems and watersheds are particularly in need of protection. Canada has an estimated 70,000 species but this valuable biodiversity is fragile with a third of species threatened.  Policy analysis and research, like the kind that Nature Canada conducts, is an important part of finding solutions to these environmental challenges. In fact briefing notes prepared for the former Environment minister, Peter Kent, revealed the Harper government acknowledges the "significant environmental policy analysis and research" that is carried out by Nature Canada and other environmental non-profits and think tanks. While the challenges facing Canada’s environment and wildlife are significant, Nature Canada’s programs and partnerships are strongly positioned to affect positive change for Canada’s threatened species and habitats. We would also like to congratulate the environmental charities featured in the report on their successes this past year in protecting and conserving Canada’s wildlife and habitat. 

Looking Back on Two Years of Hard Work
News

Looking Back on Two Years of Hard Work

caribou bull Wayne Sawchuck
Since Nature Canada began what has now been a two-year long commitment to act as a joint intervenor with BC Nature on the Northern Gateway Pipeline review process, long hours and a lot of elbow grease has gone into participating in the hearings. Thanks to donor support and the pro bono help of Chris Tollefson and his legal team at the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, we have been very busy and effective in the final stages of the Northern Gateway hearings. We would like to share with you some of the valuable work that has been made possible through the combined efforts of all three groups. Over the past two years, we have:
  • Conducted 25 hours of cross examinations of four distinct Northern Gateway experts panels on topics ranging from caribou biology, to ornithology, to spills probability and consequence modelling
  • Filed and argued four motions which have succeeded in adducing critical new evidence around caribou issues, and drawing national attention to the procedural deficiencies with the current Joint Review Panel process
  • Made five trips to northern B.C. usually of 3 to 4 days duration or longer including
  • 2 trips to Prince George, B.C.
  • 3 trips to Prince Rupert, B.C.
  • 1 trip to Terrace, B.C.
  • Completed a 92 page single spaced final written argument
  • Completed oral argument in reply to Enbridge two hours after Enbridge delivered theirs
  • Secured media coverage of BC Nature and Nature Ccanada and interviews in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun and dozens of other newspapers, national and local radio and television, Canadian Lawyer and a forthcoming feature piece in American Lawyer
Well over 1,000 hours of senior lawyer time, 2,000 hours of student time as well as thousands of dollars in travel costs and other disbursements were provided pro bono by the UVic Environmental Law Centre and its funders during this process. In a recent conversation, we asked Chris Tollefson, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, to reflect on some of the ground-breaking moments in our involvement in the hearings. Nature Canada: Enbridge has been arguing that the project poses little threat to BC’s wilderness, even as they attempt to explain spills like the one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The evidence we submitted to the panel suggests otherwise. What did you argue? Chris Tollefson: From the beginning we have argued that Enbridge has underestimated the project’s risks. First we focused on the endangered woodland caribou. Enbridge misjudges the threat of increased mortality from predators, and the impact that fragmentation of habitat will have on the caribou’s ability to feed and breed. Nature Canada: What was so flawed about Enbridge’s science on the woodland caribou? Chris Tollefson: Their assessments are far too rosy. For example: • Enbridge relied on just a single source – an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed slide show on Yukon Caribou – to derive the 'linear feature density' number that they say justifies the project. The problem is that the number is unsupportable, and the source they rely on never actually approved of the number in the first place. Mark Hume of the Globe says that this error, uncovered in our cross-examination, "might just be enough to sink the project". • Enbridge used data that looked at the availability of caribou winter habitat without considering summer habitat availability. A robust analysis would have looked at both. • We fought – successfully – to have new caribou research entered into evidence that raised urgent questions about the fate of caribou, wolves and the Gateway Pipeline. Nature Canada:  And what about Enbridge’s claims about the potential impact of oil spills? Chris Tollefson: First of all, the company avoids looking at worst-case scenarios, such as a spill within the globally significant Scott Islands Important Bird Area. To truly understand the total risk involved of a project that would bring giant tankers into these pristine waters at the rate of one every other day, we argued that the consequences are too high to do anything but prepare for the worst. Secondly, Enbridge has downplayed the consequences of an oil spill by arguing the "scientific literature is clear” that species inevitably recover. We forced them to concede, however, that none of the studies they cite involved marine mammals, and only one study of marine birds they cite showed post-spill ‘recovery’. Enbridge also failed to consider the potential impact of oil spills on open ocean wanderers such as albatrosses and shearwaters. We would like to thank BC Nature and the Environmental Law Centre for their hard work, ingenuity and perseverance during the hearings. Recommendations from the Panel to the federal government are expected later this year. For a summary of our participation in the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, read our previous posts on the topic here.

Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.

Donate