pollution

B.C. Minister Bennett’s Visit Fails to Ease Alaskans’ Mining Concerns

Bill Bennett

Promises of a closer relationship between B.C. and Alaska and more consultation on B.C. mine applications are a good start, but, so far, Southeast Alaska has no more guarantees that those mines will not pollute salmon-bearing rivers than before this week’s visit by B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, say Alaskan fishing and conservation groups.

Bennett, accompanied by senior civil servants from the ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, took a conciliatory tone as he met with state officials, policy-makers and critics of what is seen as an aggressive push by B.C. to develop mines in the transboundary area, close to vitally important salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said in a Juneau news conference with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that,” he said.

But promises of a strengthened dialogue and more opportunities to comment on mine applications fall far short of a growing chorus of Alaskan demands that the issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, formed under the Boundary Waters Treaty, which forbids either country from polluting transboundary waters.

Living Downstream of B.C.’s Gold Rush: Alaska’s Fishermen Fear End of ‘Last Wild Frontier’

Taku Inlet

No fish in the car, warned the rental car attendant at Juneau airport, with the weary tone of someone who had cleaned too many fish guts out of returned vehicles. It was a warning underlined by signs in hotels pleading with guests not to clean fish in the hotel bathrooms.

Fishing is in the DNA of Southeast Alaskans, not only as a sport and common way of filling the freezer, but also as a driver of the state economy. So it is not surprising that the perceived threat presented by a rush of mine applications on the B.C. side of the border has brought together diverse groups who want B.C. to give Alaska an equal seat at the decision-making table and to have the issue referred for review to the International Joint Commission.

I can’t conceive of not being able to fish for salmon. The grief would be too much to fathom,” said Heather Hardcastle, co-owner of Taku River Reds who has been commercial fishing for most of her life.

We share these waters and we share these fish. There has to be an international solution,” she said.

Alaskan Tourism Operators at Mercy of Canadian Mining Regulations

Smooth lumps of translucent blue ice float alongside rock-encrusted icebergs that have broken from Shakes Glacier before drifting into the Stikine River.

There is little trace of the heavy hand of human disturbance as tourists on the jet boat scramble on to a small scrub island and gaze at the expanse of ice, snowy peaks and dark cliffs sweeping down to the wild Stikine, the fastest free-flowing river in the U.S.

You don’t have to go far to find a place where no human has set foot on it before,” said James Leslie, who has been navigating the river since he was nine years old and drives the jet boat for his family’s company.

It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Leslie grew up in the nearby community of Wrangell and, like many in the area, uses the river for fishing, access to moose hunting, work and recreation.

The “anything” that Leslie fears is a spill or accident at nearby mines on the Canadian side of the border.

Oiling The Machinery Of Climate Change Denial And Transit Opposition

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

Who Says a Better World is Impossible?

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

Canada’s Fight Against NAFTA Investigation of Oilsands Tailings Gets Political, Wins Allies

tailings pond, suncor, tar sands, oilsands, alex maclean

The U.S. and Mexico appear to have joined Canada in its fight to prevent a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) investigation of the more than 176 square kilometres of tailings ponds holding waste from the Alberta oilsands near Fort McMurray.

In 2010 a group of citizens and environmental groups petitioned NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation to investigate whether Canada is breaking its own federal laws, in particular the Fisheries Act, by failing to adequately manage the massive tailings ponds which hold a toxic mixture of water, silt and chemicals.

It was important for us to know whether this was happening and whether environmental laws were being broken and whether the government is upholding those laws or ignoring them,” Dale Marshall from Environmental Defence, one of the organizations behind the compliant, said.

A 2012 federal study confirmed the tailings ponds are seeping waste into the local environment and Athabasca River. In 2013 an internal memo prepared for then Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed groundwater toxins related to bitumen extraction and processing are migrating from the tailings ponds.

Suncor Argues "All of Us" are Complicit in Climate Change, But New Lawsuits Could Prove Otherwise

suncor oilsands payback time andrew gage desmog canada

At West Coast Environmental Law we're gratified that Suncor, one of Canada's largest oilsands companies, has taken the time to read  and publicly disagree with  our recent report, Payback Time.

Payback Time examined the risks to Suncor and other Canadian fossil fuel companies of lawsuits brought by the victims of climate change outside of Canada

Suncor responded with a blog post entitled “What to do when everyone is the problem” that cleverly attempts to downplay Payback Time as just one of several efforts to single out a culprit for climate change. Suncor then argues that we are all to blame, suggesting that singling Suncor out for special blame is simply wishful thinking on the part of equally blame-worthy polluters (i.e. the general public).

Some groups are quick to single out individual countries, based on GHG emissions volumes generated within their borders. Others point the finger at specific industrial sectors which generate significant GHG emissions. Some lay the blame squarely on corporations which produce energy [linking to Payback Time] from fossil fuel sources. 

The hard, undeniable truth is that all of us, as fortunate members of the developed world, are complicit when it comes to GHG emissions…

The Movement For Environmental Rights Is Building

David Suzuki Blue Dot Tour

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

The idea of a right to a healthy environment is getting traction at Canada’s highest political levels. Federal Opposition MP Linda Duncan recently introduced “An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights” in Parliament. If it’s passed, our federal government will have a legal duty to protect Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.

I’m travelling across Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Tour to encourage people to work for recognition of such a right — locally, regionally and nationally. At the local level, the idea of recognizing citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment is already taking hold. Richmond and Vancouver, B.C., The Pas, Manitoba, and the Montreal borough of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie all recently passed municipal declarations recognizing this basic right.

Our ultimate goal is to have the right to a healthy environment recognized in the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a federal environmental bill of rights is a logical precursor. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself was preceded by a federal statute, the Bill of Rights, enacted under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government in 1960.

Blue Dot Movement Rolls Across Canada

David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

As an elder, I’ve watched Canada and the world change in many ways, for better and worse. Thanks in part to cheap energy and technological growth, the human population has more than tripled, from 2.2 billion in 1936 when I was born to about seven billion today. As a boy, I could drink from streams and lakes without worrying about getting sick. My father took me fishing for halibut, sturgeon and salmon on the Vancouver waterfront. Pretty much all food was organic.

Although my parents were born and raised in Canada, our family was incarcerated in the B.C. Interior during the Second World War. Like other people of colour, my parents didn’t have the right to vote until 1948. First Nations people living on reserves didn’t have voting rights until 1960. And, until 1969, homosexuality was a criminal offence, often leading to prison (now same-sex couples in Canada can marry). Without a health-care system, my parents had to worry far more about illness than Canadians today.

Although we’ve degraded our natural environment since my childhood, we’ve made great strides in human rights and social programs. But those advances didn’t come without struggle. It’s important to protect and improve the hard-won rights and social safety net that make Canada one of the best countries for citizens and visitors alike — but it’s crucial to protect the natural systems that make it all possible.

Mink Farm Pollution Key Culprit in Rendering Nova Scotia Lakes Unswimmable: Report

Lake Fanning, algae bloom, mink farms

When Debbie and Allen Hall bought waterfront property on Lake Fanning in Nova Scotia, they looked forward to a relaxing semi-retirement with their six grandchildren swimming and playing in the lake.

But, a decade later, the Yarmouth-area lake is unusable because of scummy blue-green algae blooms, most likely caused by manure run-off from nearby mink farms. The Halls considered moving and taking a financial blow, but have now resorted to building a swimming pool in an effort to reclaim a fraction of the lifestyle they dreamt about.

We used to think of the classic cliché of fun at the lake, running and jumping off the dock. Now there are massive blooms from late May until November and when they die off, the bacterial decomposition uses up all the oxygen and we end up with huge dead zones,” said Debbie Hall.

Nova Scotia lakes and rivers have been polluted by excess nutrients and phosphorus to the point that no one knows when — or if — they will recover and studies point the finger at fur farms.

There are now 150 mink farms in Nova Scotia and the industry generated $140 million last year with most of the pelts going to Russia, China and South Korea.

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