Friday, July 22, 2011

Feds unveil "world class" tarsands PR monitoring plan

This week saw our federal, provincial and territorial energy ministers, minus Ontario, trot out a joint communique describing the tarsands as "sustainable and responsible", even as the Cons were simultaneously slashing the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency budget by 43% and its staff by 33%.

Then yesterday Enviro Minister Peter Kent announced "a world class environmental monitoring plan" for the tarsands, based on recommendations from Bruce Carson and the Independent Oil Sands Advisory Panel.

The Toronto Star :
Environment Minister Peter Kent hopes a comprehensive new plan for monitoring the impact of the Alberta oilsands will boost the damaged reputation of the industry abroad.
“It will provide the facts and the science to defend the product which some abroad are threatening to boycott.”
“There is already a great deal of disinformation and misinformation both within Canada and abroad and we’re seeing it being used in a variety of ways — sometimes for a variety of purposes — to discriminate against the product of a great Canadian natural resource.”
Kent said he hoped the monitoring program would help alleviate concerns in Washington and speed up the approvals process.
Presumably Kent means speeding up the KeystoneXL pipeline.approvals process in Washington but gosh, he sure is pretty darn certain his new objective scientific monitoring plan is going to present the tarsands in a good light, isn't he?

And say, was it only a year ago that the Standing Committee on Environment review (6 Cons, 3 Libs, 2 Bloc, 1 NDP) considered the scientific testimony presented to its review of the tarsands to be so volatile and divisive that the committee held its last seven meetings behind closed doors before opting to scuttle its own investigation and destroy all copies of its draft report?

Maybe Kent's world class environmental monitoring plan could start by looking into whatever scared the crap out of them.


Beijing York said...

This integrated monitoring plan is a PR exercise, as the language of the press release from Kent reveals: "boost the damaged reputation of the industry abroad"; "defend the product"; and "discriminate against the product".

What I don't understand is how Canada and Alberta bypassed a regulatory review of the proponents' Environmental Impact Statements (based on extensive environmental impact assessments, which include mitigation and monitoring to reduce adverse impacts). I can't find any evidence of such an EIS, nor of a public review process or even Environment Canada review. Instead there is a reference to the Royal Society of Canada providing an overview:

A real monitoring plan acknowledges both positive and negative impacts identified in the EIS. It addresses how each impact will be monitored against projected impacts and mitigation mechanisms. This monitoring plan is bullshit science.

Alison said...

BY : I was wondering which specific project's missing EIS you were referring to, but then I realized you meant all of them collectively.

I'm no expert on this - really not - but going back ten years, the feds have consistently abrogated their CEAA responsibilities on EISs by deferring to the provinces, even in those cases they lost in the Federal Court of Canada.

See Suncor case from 2002 :
"The Federal Court of Canada, in a decision handed down late last month, ruled that the federal ministers of environment and fisheries and oceans failed to comply with their duties under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in approving Suncor’s Millennium project.

Federal Justice Elizabeth Heneghan found that the federal ministers erred in relying on a provincial planning process to ensure that significant and uncertain environmental impacts from the project would be addressed and mitigated.

It is the first judicial decision in Canada that says Ottawa has a statutory duty, under federal environmental assessment legislation, to ensure that environmental mitigation measures are put into place within a province.

Suncor and its lawyers believe the federal court ruling “will have no effect whatsoever on Project Millennium,” says Brenda Erskine, communications manager for Suncor’s oilsands division.

Suncor’s position is that the court ruling doesn’t create a precedent for how future oilsands expansions and new facilities should be regulated, Erskine said."

Is this what you meant?

As you already know this is now legal. Last year the Cons gutted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's authority to carry out comprehensive EIs in Bill C9 of the budget :

"Specifically, the Budget bill gave the federal Minister of the Environment the discretion to redefine the scope of an environmental assessment, allowing him (or her) to split projects into component parts or exclude parts of the project from the assessment. It also legalised the exemption of federally-funded infrastructure projects from EA."

Beijing York said...

Yes, the whole thing has been a sham from the beginning with respect to the various oil sands development projects. And as you reminded me, federal responsibility for ensuring proper environmental assessment and mitigation was further diluted by Harper. Those discretionary powers in that budget barely raised an eyebrow, let alone a public outcry because it was barely announced/covered by the media and rarely with any analysis of its ramifications.

The monitoring plans should be based on prior assessments that if properly conducted would have already identified potential adverse effects. If what is happening points to even more negative effects than anticipated when the projects were approved, then adjustments have to be made. This is a process that should have been ongoing for over a decade now.

Kent's announcement is no more than governmental green-washing.

Alison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alison said...

Arghhh. I'll try again.

One year ago, budget Bill C9 with its gutting of environmental assessments could have been stopped or at least delayed for further consideration but it was rushed through the Senate and passed 48-44 because seven Liberal senators had already left early for their summer holidays and did not show up for the vote.
Since then I've been a Senate abolitionist.

While Kent's announcement of the panel certainly portends green-washing, some of the new panel's members have excellent creds - including Dr. David Shindler, the last guy to give that explosive testimony before the Environment Committee before it locked itself away from public view.

He had conducted the first independent research since 1983! on "airborne tar sands contaminants found in the snow pack along the Athabasca River" :

"Mercury emitted from these plants has increased three-fold in seven years, lead has increased four-fold in six years, and arsenic three-fold in six years as well."

So we'll see.

Nicole Chaland said...

Hi Alison,

Thanks for sharing this news. Do you have a link to the joint communique referred to?

Keep up the good work!

Alison said...

Thanks, Nicole. Re link - not really.
The links labelled 2011 Energy Communiqué and 2011 Mines Communiqué at the Alberta Gov Energy and Mines Ministers Conference website actually only go to press releases, while their EMMC Webcast link goes to a registration form for the conference!

This 9 page pdf : CANADA AS A GLOBAL ENERGY LEADER: TOWARD GREATER PAN‐CANADIAN COLLABORATION is the most complete doc I've found but even it reads like a glorified press release.

Nicole Chaland said...

Thanks Alison,
I couldn't find anything on the BC government website in reference to the agreed upon principles either.

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