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Changes Weakening Environmental Protection Laws Passed
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Changes Weakening Environmental Protection Laws Passed

On July 8, Liberal and independent senators voted for the removal of changes weakening environmental protection laws, namely the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), amongst other sections of Bill C-9 they believed did not belong in the bill. Unfortunately, yesterday, Bill C-9 was passed after a 48 to 44 vote - bad news for environmental protection because the sections, that were removed by the Senate finance committee, have now been reinstated and the bill received royal assent last night. On a more positive note, 'turning the CEAA amendments into a public and political issue is a great achievement which demonstrates the collective influence environmental organizations are capable of' said Mr. Stephen Hazell of Ecojustice. And this work will, of course, continue!!

Liberal Senators Vote against Amendments to Weaken Environmental Protection Laws
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Liberal Senators Vote against Amendments to Weaken Environmental Protection Laws

The 2010 budget implementation bill, the Jobs and Economic Growth Act (Bill C-9), proposes changes that would gut Canada’s environmental protection laws. If passed, Bill C-9 would significantly weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) in various ways - one of which allows projects to be exempted from environmental assessments! After months of concern and efforts to remove these changes from the bill, yesterday, some Liberal and independent senators in the senate finance committee voted to remove some of the sections included in the budget. It was agreed amongst them that these sections did not belong in the bill because they are not related to implementing the 2010 budget. Besides weakening the CEAA, other sections proposed for removal dealt with Canada Post, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and how financial services are taxed. The bill has now been passed onto the full senate for a vote that will likely take place on either Monday or Tuesday. It is likely that the Conservative senators will vote to have the removed sections re-installed. And although Liberal and independent senators outnumber the Conservatives, it seems as though they haven’t been able to get enough senators to stop the bill from being passed. Still, these senators have given us some hope that Bill C-9 will do what it is meant to - which does not include weakening Canada's environmental protection laws. We hope that all senators will attend this vote and consider the true impacts of their decisions on our wildlife, our natural legacy and our country.

Environment Slips From Radar
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Environment Slips From Radar

From the Toronto Star, columnist Chantal Hebert ponders the apparent evaporation of concern over the environment among Canadians polled, and among the politicians who monitor those polls:

Once the hot seat of the Conservative cabinet, the environment portfolio is well on the way to becoming a question period La-Z-Boy.
In sharp contrast with his two immediate predecessors who were regular targets of opposition attacks, Jim Prentice is lucky if he gets to stretch his legs once over the course of the opposition's daily 45 minute grilling of the government... ...Forty days into the session, backbench Conservatives have put more questions to the environment minister than the Liberals and the NDP combined... ...The economy has become the overriding priority of Canadians, pushing the environment off the public opinion radar. According to the latest Toronto Star/La Presse Nanos poll, the economy is now the priority of 55 per cent of Canadians, far ahead of the environment or health care – that other former red-button issue – at barely 10 per cent. The shape of public opinion always looms large in the priorities of the opposition parties, but the demise of the environment as a top-of-mind question period issue has also been accelerated by the changing of the Liberal guard. One of Michael Ignatieff's first acts as Liberal leader has been to do away with Stéphane Dion's carbon tax and send the party's green plan back to the drawing board. Since then, the environment has not been a top-tier Liberal issue in the House. In this session, the Liberals have put four questions to Prentice and only one of those was asked by Ignatieff himself, on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Canada. There was a time when the NDP would have rushed to pick up the Liberal slack, but that was before the environment became the signature issue of the Green party... ...But the climate change file is very much at play on the international scene and it stands to become a central part of Canada-U.S. relations once the Obama administration fills in the blanks of its environment policy. The upcoming publication of a report on carbon pricing by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is also bound to stir things up. When all is said and done, the environment is not so much a dormant issue as one that no longer acts as a wedge between the main federal parties. That always results in less question period ice time. Read the entire column.

Questioning Carbon Capture and Storage: the fossil fuel industry’s Holy Grail
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Questioning Carbon Capture and Storage: the fossil fuel industry’s Holy Grail

Yesterday in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson described the problems facing the US coal industry with regard to reducing the greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) that are produced when coal is burned. Canada and the USA are investing hundreds of millions of public dollars in carbon capture and storage (CCS), the holly grail of the fossil fuel industry. In Canada CCS is trumpeted by politicians as the solution to greenhouse gas issues associated with the environmentally destructive oil sands industry in northern Alberta. The Globe article describes the sputtering start and stop attempts south of the border to construct CCS facilities, aborted in the end due to reportedly exorbitant costs that could “double the cost of coal-generated electricity.” The challenges faced by this technology include concentrating the carbon dioxide at source, which requires massive energy inputs, safe transport to the storage area, and secure storage. Pilot projects to capture and store carbon dioxide are underway in various countries, most notably in Norway and right here in Canada in Weyburn Saskatchewan and also in Alberta. The approach at Weyburn is to inject highly concentrated carbon dioxide gas from coal plants in North Dakota into subterranean oil fields to facilitate the extraction of oil. Carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere at very low levels as a result of cellular respiration of animals and the weathering of carbon-containing minerals (carbonates) such as limestone. The air outside contains on average 380 parts per million (ppm) (.038%), a rise of approximately 100 ppm in the last 200 years. Carbon dioxide molecules trap heat, which is why C02 is considered a greenhouse gas. The rising level of C02 caused by the burning of fossil fuels after the industrial revolution is believed to be the principle cause of climate change, and particularly global warming. Plants absorb CO2 and convert it to simple sugars and oxygen through photosynthesis. This is why deforestation is also considered a cause of global warming because is reduces the earth’s capacity to remove C02 from the atmosphere. The carbon captured by plants ends up in living tissue, bones, shells, soils, sedimentary rock, and of course “fossil fuels” such as coal and oil which all can be traced back to plants. C02 becomes toxic to life as it becomes more concentrated. Effects on human health are well documented after concentrations above 2%, and likely effects such as drowsiness are experienced at levels below this. Because C02 displaces oxygen and is heavier than oxygen, it “pools” in places such as underground storage areas in barns or tanks used for storing waste. Many people have succumbed to C02 gas when entering one of these potential death traps. C02 is odourless meaning that detection of this hazard by smell for example (as is the case is hydrogen sulphide), is not possible. There are several other hazards associated with the transportation and storage of concentrated C02 that should cause us to pause when considering how to dispose of the “captured” gas from these processes such as its violent reaction when exposed to air. The viability of carbon capture and storage is still unproven. As it is currently understood and practiced, CCS is extremely costly and could double the cost of energy. The safe storage of the C02 is fraught with many concerns and problems associated with safety and risk. Despite these concerns, the recent federal budget, supported by rhetoric from our political leaders, includes a massive investment in CCS. In fact the government had the audacity to consider this investment as a major plank in their “green” platform. Since these are our tax dollars and this is our planet, as a society we must scrutinize these types of investments and consider whether they truly are in our best interest. Massive public funds going toward carbon capture and storage obstructs the conversion of our economy to one that is ecologically sustainable by diverting public investment from technologies such as solar, geothermal and wind that do not entail the same risks, and which directly address climate change, the greatest environmental challenge facing humanity.

A budget that misses the mark
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A budget that misses the mark

Prime Minister Harper said in October 2008 “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.” This was also about the time that Finance Minister Flaherty told us that there would be no deficit. A few months later, and the budget is predicting $64 billion dollars in deficit over the next two years and nature conservation and protection is absent from the proposed 2009 federal budget. This is not to say that there were not positive nuggets in the budget. The sad state of many First Nations communities was addressed in several positive ways. Via Rail will receive significant funds to increase and improve its service. There is $81 million going towards contaminated sites, $690 million to a vaguely worded agricultural flexibility program that does mention “environmental sustainability" (thank God no specific mention of growing corn for ethanol production), $75 million for Parks Canada to improve and fix their roads, visitor centres, and campgrounds, and a one billion dollar green infrastructure fund. But in reading this budget, one can not help feeling that an opportunity was missed. What is missing is a cause for disappointment. There are no commitments in this budget toward completing the system of national parks. There is no plan to protect the north, oceans or marine and fresh water ecosystems, though they are under tremendous threat from industrial expansion and climate change. The Canadian Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for our migratory birds and the crumbling system of national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries are not even mentioned. Protecting Canada’s natural resources and biodiversity is both an ethical responsibility and legal obligation, yet without adequate capacity or any recognition at all as a priority, the only conclusion that one can reach is that nature is not important to this government. Couched in happy, green language, are some worrisome red flags. Under the heading “A More Sustainable Environment” the budget states “to maintain a strong economy Canada requires a healthy environment . . . ." While there is a commitment of $1 billion toward clean energy technologies, the emphasis is clearly on supporting and promoting the highly controversial and unproven carbon capture and storage schemes. Removing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and storing it in the ground is fraught with problems and controversies, but has been promoted as a panacea to justify the tar sands expansions, which are destroying thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest, and the continued burning of coal to generate electricity. In addition, industry's investment in carbon capture and storage is being encouraged through a capital cost allowance. I fail to see how these investments of our tax dollars are moving Canada toward a healthy environment while at the same time the wind energy incentive program of the federal government has been axed. The other curiosity is a section called “strengthening Canada’s Nuclear Advantage.” $351 million dollars will be flowed to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to meet “energy security and climate change goals.” Our country’s history with nuclear is not one of financial prudence but one that has created mountains of debt due both to the huge capital costs associated with building reactors, the liabilities associated with decommissioning the reactors after their relatively short life spans, and the un-reconciled issue of managing the waste products that remain highly hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Again, I’m not sure how investing in nuclear can be considered part of “a more sustainable environment” particularly when real sources of green energy are not explicitly mentioned at all (i.e. solar, wind, geothermal). Getting back to nature protection, another red flag shoots up in a section called “Accelerating Approvals Processes.” The government is proposing to amend and streamline the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, federal laws that protect our land and water ecosystems. This potential weakening of these laws to accelerate business could lead to more environmental losses, and makes us now wonder what the Prime Minister really meant when he said “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.” This budget should be about shifting us to a green economy, but it does not. In fact, though it may well provide some needed economic stimulus for today, it does so at a great cost to future generations.

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