A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.


Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf

Images:

McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html

The long path towards transparency

This February, I read an article from Science Magazine on the issues of open record laws. It was interesting that the attempt to integrate transparency into the scientific community has led to harassment of researchers. This happens in the form of incessant communication (via meetings, calls, requests, emails), legal battles and lawsuits [1]. Is this what transparency brings to EIA? Is that what scares proponents away from being transparent?

Transparency is a concept that can improve decision-making. In several of my graduate classes, we can have eternal discussions on the importance of transparency in environmental impact assessments (EIA). We have seen cases where transparency was needed, or how it could improve the EIA process. Transparency was lacking in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant project, which led to unquestioned and uninformed decisions, resulting in the infamous Fukushima disaster [2]. If transparency can improve the credibility and process of EIA, why is it met with so much resistance?

What we need to keep in mind is that peer-reviewed research studies and EIA conclusions are not the same. The audience of peer-reviewed scholarly articles includes other scholars and researchers. An EIA is meant for decision-makers and to inform stakeholders. This is an important distinction. Research papers go through peer-reviewing “as the system for evaluating the quality, validity, and relevance of scholarly research [3].” An EIA report is meant to analyze the impacts of a particular project.

During one class, we discussed a paper by O’Faircheallaigh [4] that looked at the different types and purposes of public participation. It would be interesting to allow these types of public participation to provide controlled opportunities for anyone interested instead of limiting the transparency of the project. We know that there has already been an increase in restraints on public participation with the current CEAA 2012 [5]. We should at least increase transparency.

On March 16, 2015, a story about a Six Nations incinerator project, in Ontario, emerged in the news involving a new “zero emissions” incinerator that was reportedly producing 200 times the acceptable provincial levels of toxins and carcinogens into the environment [6]. On March 19, 2015, the community held a meeting to discuss the issue [7]. Questions were left unanswered, and the inventor of the incinerator, John Kearns, did not even attend the meeting to provide any information [7]. This is an instance in which transparency is needed to decide what to do next, and yet it is lacking.

“So this is good. It’s not bad. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we need a lot of sunlight in this troubled world.”

– Don Tapscott on transparency

Questioning the level of transparency for peer-reviewed papers is intended to protect researchers from excessive harassment. What the EIA process has that the research process lacks are the planned opportunities for those with access to the information and data to express their concerns. There are also more members participating in the EIA process compared to the number of members in a research team. We are in an age where this resistance only creates conflict. Proponents are finding it harder to fight transparency, as transparency in everyday life is becoming the norm. We no longer see transparency as a courtesy. It is becoming expected.

The following TEDtalk video has well-known author, management thinker and futurist Don Tapscott discuss where we, as a global community, are headed in terms of transparency:

[1] Kollipara P. 2015. Open records laws becoming vehicle for harassing academic researchers, report warns. In: News: Policy. Science Magazine. Electronically accessed: http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2015/02/open-records-laws-becoming-vehicle-harassing-academic-researchers-report-warns

[2] Wang Q and Chen X. 2012. Regulatory transparency—How China can learn from Japan’s nuclear regulatory failures? Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 16:3574–3578.

[3] Taylor & Francis Group. 2014. What is peer review? [Website] Taylor & Francis. http://journalauthors.tandf.co.uk/review/peer.asp

[4] O’Faircheallaigh C. 2010. Public participation and environmental impact assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 30: 19–27.

[5] Gibson RB. 2012. In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. 30(3):179-188.

[6] Green J. 2015. Six Nations incinerator polluting at up to 200 times Ontario limits. CBC News. March 16, 2015. Electronically accessed: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/six-nations-incinerator-polluting-at-up-to-200-times-ontario-limits-1.2931215

[7] Green J. 2015. Inventor skips Six Nations meeting about failed incinerator report. CBC News. March 20, 2015. Electronically accessed: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/inventor-skips-six-nations-meeting-about-failed-incinerator-report-1.3002484

Is India on pace to be more environmentally friendly or to make the environment a business?

Being a developing country, India’s primary goal is to develop economically and environmentally, according to Prakash Javadekar, the country’s newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests [1].  In May 2014, he initiated his duties by increasing the efficiency of the EIA online system and by speeding the process of EIA approvals in India. In his first 100 days, about 240 of 325 projects received environmental clearance which had been halted by the previous government [2].

A key question arises: with the EIA notification in India having already changed more than 100 times before now [3] and with the speed of developments and Environmental Clearances sanctioned by the new government, will the objective for which the EIA process is designed be maintained or will the environment be treated as only a business?

The EIA notification in 2006 itself is important to recall here. It was a notification intervening in the 1994 notification, and gave more opportunities to the State Governments, gave rights to the funding agencies like the World Bank to implement their own methods for Environmental Clearance, reduced the public hearing procedures with the exclusion of the Panchayats (local people assembly), and much more [4]. Since then drastic changes are visible every time a new minister takes the charge.

In the last six months, the following activities occurred, boosting up development and focusing on the protection of the Environment.

  • In July 2014, an online system was initiated for the submission and the monitoring of forest clearance projects. [5]

Untitled

Online system initiation and designation as a Business. [11]

  • In December 2014, a notification was issued where the Environment Ministry exempted the building of schools, colleges, industrial sheds etc., up to an area of 150,000m2 from needing a prior clearance for construction [6].
  • On January 21, 2015 approximately 50 utility projects including railways, roadways, power, irrigation etc were given a speedy clearance.[7]
  • In January, 2015 US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi teamed up to combat climate change and support India’s ambition in the excellent project of huge investment in the renewable energy sector[8].
  • Investment of 100 billion dollars in clean energy projects achieving Sustainable development.
  • Many other projects have been in the pipeline like the cleaning of the river Ganga in next five years [9], stringent air pollution norms, stringent norms for the industries, and the list goes on.

environment-graphic-i

Suggestions to be amendments or new laws [12]

Based on these rapid developments and changes, there are some concerns among people. “We were in trouble with the last government and we are in even more trouble with this government. Rather than try to reform the system, they are picking at the edges.” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) [10].

The new political party coming in force in India is bringing huge changes within a short period of time concerning the development of the country, along with the protection of the environment and towards sustainable development. There is much more to come as time passes. But, within this context, somewhere the question remains unsolved: Will this pace of development with upcoming and future projects, rapid clearances of projects and attention driven approaches, change the main objective and the purpose for which assessment of impacts and clearances of projects are carried out?  Or will it move in the right direction?

References:

[1] Singh N. (2014, September 11). Javadekar clears all files in 100 Days. Is Modi Ministry Compromising on Environment? International Business Times. Retrieved on January 24, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.co.in/javadekar-clears-all-files-100-days-modi-ministry-compromising-environment-608875

[2]Chauhan C..(2014, September 11). Prakash Javadekar clears 240 projects in 3 months. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 10, 2015 from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/on-fast-track-environment-minister-prakash-javadekar-clears-240-projects-in-3-months/article1-1262676.aspx

[3] Chauhan C..(2013, November 11). Environment Impact Assessment changed 100 times in less than 7 years. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from  http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/environment-impact-assessment-changed-100-times-in-less-than-7-years/article1-1149633.aspx

[4] Lemmer, J. A. (2006). Cleaning Up Development: EIA in Two of the World’s Largest and Most Rapidly Developing Countries. Geo. Int’l Envtl. L. Rev., 19, 275.

[5] ET Bureau..(2014, July 16). Environment ministry unveils online system for submission and monitoring of forest clearance proposals. Industry ,The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 1, 2015  from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/environment-ministry-unveils-online-system-for-submission-and-monitoring-of-forest-clearance-proposals/articleshow/38447247.cms

[6] Dhoot V.( 2015, January 6). Make in India: Government removes arbitrary environmental clearance to facilitate projects. Policy, The Economic Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-06/news/57748024_1_environment-ministry-clearance-environment-management

[7] PTI. (2015, January 21). Over 50 public utility projects get Environment Ministry panel nod, Infrastructure. The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-21/news/58306062_1_lac-environment-ministry-general-approval

[8] ET Bureau. (2015, January 26). Obama in India: PM Narendra Modi, Barack Obama strike alliance on climate change; air pollution, renewable energy focus areas. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-26/news/58470064_1_climate-change-navroz-dubash-climate-talks

[9] PTI. (2015, January 21). Ganga will transform in five years: Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-03/news/57633790_1_ganga-river-clean-ganga-campaign-environment-ministry

[10] Reuters. (2014, October 10). India Approves Projects In Dash For Growth, Alarming Green Groups. International Business Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.com/india-approves-projects-dash-growth-alarming-green-groups-1702680

[11] Mohan V. (2014, June 6). Green clearances go online with time limits for approvals. The Times of India. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Green-clearances-go-online-with-time-limits-for-approvals/articleshow/36118057.cms

[12] Mohan V. (2015, January 5). Govt moots ideas to sync green norms with growth. ET Auto.com, An initiative of the Economic Times, Retrieved  on February 5, 2015 from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/auto/news/policy/govt-moots-ideas-to-sync-green-norms-with-growth/articleshow/45756396.cms

The weakening of Canada’s environmental protection laws – an obsolete NAFTA to blame?

On 27 January 2015, the Council for the Commission of Environmental Cooperation (CEC), NAFTA’s environmental arm, unanimously elected to prevent an investigation meant to assess Canada’s poor environmental management record as it pertains to the continuous leaking of tailings ponds into the Athabasca River1. Two non-governmental organizations and three private citizens filed the complaint with the CEC in September 2010, alluding to the federal government’s failure at enforcing the Federal Fisheries Act1.

Dale Marshall, National Energy Program Manager with Environmental Defence, explains2:

http://globalnews.ca/video/embed/1801750/

“The blow is to the people who are being affected by toxic pollution and whose government just turned their back on” Dale Marshall, Environmental Defence2

The CEC’s recent decision to thwart public scrutiny of an ecologically devastating issue of long date is the third occurrence of its kind within the last year3. The irresponsibility, lack of transparency, and political biases introduced by the inability of NAFTA’s signatories to see this investigation through hints not only at the federal government’s conflict of interests with the tar sands industry, but also at NAFTA’s growing ineptitude and obsolescence with respect to the enforcement of existing environmental laws in Canada.

Established in the wake of NAFTA’s inception in 1994, the CEC is a tripartite inter-jurisdictional review body mandated to support the protection, conservation, and enhancement of environmental concerns4,5. It does so through the production of citizen- and NGO-driven inquiries, called factual records, into Canadian, Mexican or American governmental behaviours deemed neglectful of their environmental policies5. The CEC was created as a safeguard to ensure the free trade agreement did not result in the creation of pollution havens, a race-to-the-bottom for environmental standards, and an increase in environmental impacts6.

As multiple examples suggest, however, NAFTA is riddled with inherent weaknesses which, taken together, have strongly contributed to the regressive environmental platform that now typifies the federal Canadian context.

Alberta’s booming oil and gas industry is the poster child of post-NAFTA economic growth in Canada, with industry pressures routinely exerting their stronghold over Canadian federal policy direction. The budget cuts of 2009, 2010, and 2012, introduced under alluring aliases like Jobs and Growth, have repeatedly gutted key environmental acts, introducing changes that proposed the elimination of the “legal protection of navigation on 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers”7, that exempt “certain pipeline projects from the requirement to respect reasonable measures to protect critical habitat of species protected under SARA [Species At Risk Act]”6, that have weakened the CEAA, and that eased tolerable levels of harm incurred to fish or fish habitat as per the Federal Fisheries Act6. Canada formally abandoned its Kyoto obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 20116, and repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act in 20127. Environment Canada’s overall funds were cut by nearly 30 per cent by the 2014 budget8.

The CEC’s decision thus comes with much frustration but as no surprise. In its twenty years of generating factual records, the CEC has put forth 29 votes on petitions9. Only five of those votes resulted in the outright rejection of an investigation – three of which have befallen Canadian practices in the last 12 months10. In 2014, motions registered with the CEC to report on the lack of protection of polar bears under the Species at Risk Act and on the violation of the Federal Fisheries Act through harmful fish farming practices off the coast of British Columbia were successfully vetoed with the same nonchalance seen with the Alberta tailings case10. Perhaps the time has come to recognize the obsolescence of our trade agreements, their affiliate organizations, and the policy space they occupy.

 Source11

References:

1 Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Alberta Tailings Ponds. Registry of Submissions. Update 27 January 2015. Available from http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=2001&ContentID=2864 Accessed 8 February 2015

2 Global News. NAFTA Watchdog Won’t Investigate Oilsands. Released on 29 January 2015. Available from http://globalnews.ca/video/1801750/nafta-watchdog-wont-investigate-oilsands/ Accessed on 8 February 2015.

3 Schindler, D.W. (2014). Unravelling the complexity of pollution by the oil sands industry. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science, 111(9), 3209-3210.

4 Garver, G. & Podhora, A. (2008). Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment as Part of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 26(4), 253-263.

5 Commission for Environmental Cooperation. (2014). About the CEC. Available from http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=1226&SiteNodeID=310&BL_ExpandID=878 Accessed on 8 February 2015.

6 Garver, G. (n.d.). Forgotten Promises: Neglected Environmental Provisions of the NAFTA and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. Available from www.cec.org/Storage/150/17599_NAFTA_book_chapter.docx Accessed 8 February 2015.

7 Johnston, A. Canada Gutting its International Reputation Along with its Environmental Laws. West Coast Environmental Law. Posted on 14 November 2013. Available from http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/canada-gutting-its-international-reputation-along-its-environmenta Accessed 8 February 2015.

8 Nikiforuk, N. Facing Millions in Cuts, Environment Canada Prepares to Get Lean. The Tyee. Posted on 15 March 2014. Available from http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/15/Environment-Canada-Cuts/ Accessed on 8 February 2015.

9 Skene, J. (2015). Failure to Investigate Tailings Ponds Sends the Wrong Signals on NAFTA Environmental Oversight. Tar Sands Solution Network. Available from http://tarsandssolutions.org/member-blogs/failure-to-investigate-tailings-ponds-sends-the-wrong-signals-on-nafta-envi Accessed 8 February 2015.

10 McDiarmid, M. NAFTA scrutiny of oilsands tailings ponds opposed by Canada. CBC News, Politics. Posted on 12 January 2015. Available from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/nafta-scrutiny-of-oilsands-tailings-ponds-opposed-by-canada-1.2896100 Accessed on 8 February 2015.

11 Libby, H. & Linnitt, C. (2013). Fort McMurray, Home to 176 Square km of Tar Sands Tailings Ponds, Overwhelmed by Floods. Desmog Canada. Available here http://www.desmog.ca/2013/06/11/fort-mcmurray-home-176-square-km-tar-sands-tailings-ponds-overwhelmed-floods Accessed 9 February 2015.

Rise of Remote Sensing

By Megan Chan

WWF

In the news, we hear about polar bear shrinking and populations declining, and walruses trampling their young on the shores of Alaska because of the decrease in sea ice [1, 2]. On the other hand, there are stories like the sighting of the rare clouded leopard, the hog badger, the marbled cat and the yellow-throated marten caught on film in the North Bengal’s Buxa Tiger Reserve: species we were unsure even remained in that the area [3]. So, where do we stand on the health of wildlife?

In September, the World Wildlife Fund (a.k.a. World Wide Fund For Nature) released its annual Living Project Report for 2014 that stated:

The [Living Planet Index], which measures trends in thousands of vertebrate species populations, shows a decline of 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010. In other words, vertebrate species populations across the globe are, on average, about half the size they were 40 years ago. [4]

With the rapid change in the world, maps quickly become outdated and misrepresentative of the status of areas we are interested in protecting or developing. Maps communicate information in a way that represent reality [5]. Meeting the demand for current data is essential if we want to keep our representation of reality as accurate as possible. This is where remote sensing can make some data collection easier to accomplish. Geographic information systems (GIS) are additional time savers when it comes to producing and storing new information [5].

Furthermore, remote sensing is useful for monitoring changes in habitats without being invasive: sometimes important for observing locations like protected areas. In Colorado, laws prohibit “anything mechanical or motorized” from entering the protected area in order to avoid extensive man-made damage [6]. We have technology to help with this problem.

So, where are we with technology? If you looked at the news, you could read about NASA launching their Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) for measuring pollutants and small particles in the air [7]. On a similar note, current satellites and a new marine gravity model are in the process of creating higher-resolution, more in-depth images of the ocean floor [8]. Access to remote sensing tools or imagery, and GIS software make collection and analysis faster than previously [5].

Maybe you are worried about accessibility or cost. Open source materials, like the Arduino microcontroller, are acting as a catalyst for new scientific instruments [9]. As of 2011, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has made species and habitat information available [10]. The Atlas of Canada and the U.S. Geological Survey provide a limited but excellent source of data for anyone interested in using it. There is even open source GIS software for this free data depending on your needs.

Not convinced that the instruments available to us are effective? This technology is still growing. There is always room for growth.

Here’s a video I find fascinating of ecologist, Greg Anser, giving a TED Talk in 2013 about his work on collecting data and how he makes remote sensing work for his research:

We still have limitations. We can still maintain some skepticism, but if you do not like the instruments in front of you, think about making your own.

 

References:

[1] Maki, A. (2014, Oct. 02, 2014). How the effects of climate change in Arctic Canada are shrinking polar bears. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/shrinking-polar-bears-a-barometer-for-the-climate-sensitive-north/article20904215/?utm_content=buffer738cb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

[2] AP. (2014). Walruses forced ashore en masse as sea ice melts. CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/walruses-forced-ashore-en-masse-as-sea-ice-melts-1.2783672

 

[3] Mukherjee, K. (2014). Can technology developments save what’s left of our wildlife? The Time of India. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Can-technology-developments-save-whats-left-of-our-wildlife/articleshow/42380949.cms

 

[4] WWF. (2014). Living Planet Report 2014: species and spaces, people and places. In R. McLellan, L. Iyengar, B. Jeffries & N. Oerlemans (Eds.). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

 

[5] Vitek, J. D., Giardino, J. R., & Fitzgerald, J. W. (1996). Mapping geomorphology: A journey from paper maps, through computer mapping to GIS and Virtual Reality. Geomorphology, 16(3), 233-249. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0169-555X(96)80003-1

 

[6] Estabrook, R. (2014). Climate change causing National Park Service to ‘rethink’ wilderness management. Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved from CPR website: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/climate-change-causing-national-park-service-rethink-wilderness-management

 

[7] Keesey, L. (2014). New remote-sensing instrument to blaze a trail on the International Space Station [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/nsfc-nr090814.php

 

[8] Gramling, C. (2014). Satellites reveal hidden features at the bottom of Earth’s seas. News. Retrieved from Science website: http://news.sciencemag.org/earth/2014/10/satellites-reveal-hidden-features-bottom-earths-seas

 

[9] Davis, J. (2014). Students build smart devices and scientific instruments with Arduino. Life. Retrieved from Open Source website: http://opensource.com/life/14/9/tools-scientific-discovery-open-hardware

[10] Ball, M. (2011). Washington State Unlocks Habitat Data with New Online Mapping Site. Retrieved from http://www.sensysmag.com/spatialsustain/washington-state-unlocks-habitat-data-with-new-online-mapping-site.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SpatialSustain+%28Spatial+Sustain%29

 

Exploratory drilling in Cacouna (Quebec): a flaw within the Environmental Assessment process?

By Alice Couturier,

Recent developments in the Cacouna area, located on the South shore of the St. Lawrence River estuary, are an incentive to question the EA process for big energy projects in Quebec and in Canada. Preliminary drilling operations sparked a burning debate due to their potential impacts on a particular endangered species. These operations are part of a bigger project to build a pipeline to transport oil from the Alberta oil sands, along with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Gros-Cacouna, which has been submitted to the National Energy Board (Arsenault, 2014).

www.cbc.ca

Plans for the Energy East Pipeline and its ports (Source: Radio-Canada; extracted from CBC News, 11 September 2014):

On September 23rd, the Quebec Superior Court issued an injunction that forced the Albertan energy company- TransCanada Corporation- to immediately cease exploratory drilling in Cacouna until October 15th. The investigation concluded that the decision to deliver the certificate of authorization was based on insufficient information and may be unreasonable from a jurisprudence perspective (Superior Court of Quebec, 2014).

The four environmental groups that issued the demand were concerned by the threat posed by noise from drilling operations to the St Lawrence beluga whale species survival (CBC News, 2014). This relict population – geographically isolated from arctic beluga populations- figures among threatened species protected under the Species at Risk Act (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2013; Joint Review Panel & BAPE, 2006). Commercial whaling prior to 1979 greatly decreased the number of individuals, from about 10,000 before 1885 to below 1,000 today, with no sign of recovery (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2013). Risks associated with avoidance behaviours are increased because the area is important for the belugas’ reproduction, and because exploratory work was planned during the crucial breeding and nursing period (CBC News, 2014; Superior Court, 2014; Joint Review Panel & BAPE, 2006).

0829 jl Cacounca map

Map of the beluga whale habitat in the St Lawrence River estuary (Source: Robert Michaud, GREMM; Jeanine Lee, The Gazette):

That the certificate of authorization for exploratory drilling was issued in the first place is highly suspect! Especially if we consider that the 2006 public hearings report of a joint review panel between the federal and provincial Ministries of the Environment already established the importance of the area for belugas’ feeding and reproductive habits (Joint Panel Report: 78-79). The same report referred to scientific groups stating it was “unthinkable to authorize” operations from the month of June to October, which would scare the belugas away from the area (the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, in Joint Review Panel: 27 & 85).

Surprising fact: this EIA report was among the documents analyzed prior to the delivery of the authorization certificate (Superior Court, 2014)! However, although the panel mentioned them, it did not include the GREMM’s advice within its official recommendations (Cacouna.Qc, 2006).

This case study hence highlights the potential existence of biases within the Canadian EIA process with regards to big energy projects. According to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (2007):

– the 2006 public hearing and joint review panel were designed to meet the requirements of both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Quebec Environment Quality Act;

– and, the panel report has been approved by the responsible authorities for the project under CEAA requirements, namely the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Transport Canada (TC).

And yet a drilling permit for the Energy Cacouna project was granted despite significant risks to an endangered species. Then, how much information gets lost when projects are transferred from one governmental structure to another? Are there sufficient efforts to reconnect Environmental Assessments studies associated with different phases of a same project?

The media and the public seem to blame Quebec’s Minister of the Environment, David Heurtel, as he signed the permit for exploratory drilling in Cacouna. But is it really one individual’s fault? Or is it the whole EIA system/process that should be refined?

 

References:

Arsenault, J. (2014). ‘TransCanada’s Cacouna Drilling Temporarily Halted For Belugas’, 23 Sept, The Huffington Post, Business, Canada, 7 Oct, [Online], Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/09/23/transcanada-cacouna-drilling_n_5871212.html [3 Oct 2014]

Cacouna.Qc (2006) Cacouna: beluga whales are not worth much according to BAPE report, [Online], 14 December, Available: http://cacouna.net/projetmethanier_e.htm [4 Oct 2014]

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (2007) Archived – Government of Canada’s Response to the Report of the Joint Review Panel on the Proposed Development of the Cacouna Energy LNG Terminal Project, [Online], 10 July, Available: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/052/document-html-eng.cfm?did=22253 [5 Oct 2014].

CBC News (2014) TransCanada work on St. Lawrence port suspended by Quebec court order, [Online], 23 Sept, Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/transcanada-work-on-st-lawrence-port-suspended-by-quebec-court-order-1.2775613 [3 Oct 2014].

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2013) Aquatic Species at Risk – Beluga Whale (St. Lawrence Estuary population), [Online], 22 July, Available: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/species-especes/belugaStLa-eng.htm [4 Oct 2014]

Joint Review Panel & BAPE (2006). Cacouna Energy LNG Terminal Project, [Electronic], Report 230, November, Available: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/18338/18338E.pdf [5 Oct 2014].

TransCanada (2007) TransCanada and Petro-Canada receive approval from the Québec Government for the Cacouna Energy Project, [Online], 27 June, Available: http://www.transcanada.com/3106.html [3 Oct 2014].

Superior Court of Quebec (2014). Jugement (Injonction Interlocutoire), [Electronic], 23 September, Available: http://www.cqde.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Jugement_14_09_23.pdf [5 Oct 2014]

Vendeville, G. (2014) ‘Couillard says Cacouna drilling necessary’, The Montreal Gazette, [Online], 24 Sept, Available: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Couillard+says+Cacouna+drilling+necessary/10232763/story.html?__federated=1 [3 Oct 2014]

Links to images:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/energy-east-pipeline-exploratory-drilling-to-begin-in-cacouna-que-1.2762976

In praise of Indigenous wisdom

By Emmanuelle Galeotti

"El regalo de la Pachamama",Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“El regalo de la Pachamama”,Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
Rachel Carson

Protecting Pachamama…and us
The most progressive and meaningful action to protect our environment, the most vulnerable populations and the rights of future generations altogether went almost unreported back in April 2011, when Bolivia passed a law that gives Nature equal rights to humans in its constitution [1]. Called the “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” (Law 071), it comprises eleven specific rights summarized as follows:
(i) the right to exist and to have natural cycles operating without human modification,
(ii)the right to clean air and water,
(iii) the right to balance and to not be polluted,
(iv)the right to integrity as in not genetically modified,
(iiv)the right to not be disturbed by large development project for both nature and communities[2].

Pachamama (Mother Earth) is considered a living entity by the indigenous population of the Andes. The Bolivian population is 60% indigenous, comprising 2.5 millions Quechuas [3], it is the highest percentage of indigenous population in all Latin America.

The “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” opens the door to new avenues for conservation, social well-being and legal protection. Because this law is the product of grass roots groups, politicians and communities, I see in it the achievement of traditional ecological knowledge coming into the sphere of decision making. The first indigenous Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said in 2008 in his pamphlet “Ten commandments to save the planet, humanity and life”:

“We indigenous peoples will continue to talk until we achieve real change. Our voice comes from way back . Our voice is the voice of the snow-capped mountains which are losing their white ponchos.”

In the last decade the country went through one natural disaster after another, including severe droughts that put the already poor subsistence farmers at an even greater risk. Bolivia has also suffered from environmental issues related to the exploitation of its numerous natural resources by foreign companies. Since his election in 2006, Evo Morales is working on a comprehensive change for Bolivians, and this included refusing the drastic neoliberal Washington Consensus. He initiated the nationalization of the natural resources sector and services deemed as human rights (e.g., water supply, telecommunications). Bolivia is now free of debt and boasting a 6.5% economic growth in 2014[4].

Empowering EIA
Can the overall EIA process really achieve its goals without a legal framework that gives rights to nature and the future generations? In improving the state of the environment, NEPA and CEAA have been instrumental, but aren’t they limited to only some projects?
Any negative impact on the environment will ultimately impact human beings soon or later and near or far. We must remember this when conducting an EIA, as we are measuring and predicting impacts on the environment to inform a rational decision that should be made in the best interest of society as a whole. To me, the goal of an EIA is to prevent undue damage to the environment and to ourselves. If we do not reaffirm the human-nature connection as professionals, how can we expect those who do not have our education to take steps to reduce their own impacts?
In Bolivia Mother Earth and its ecosystems, including human communities, have constitutional rights equal to that of a person. However, in the USA (and in most developed countries) it is corporations who have that right. I believe taking inspiration from Bolivia’s approach to environmental protection would bring the fundamental change required for our societies to place sustainability at the top of our development agenda.

[1]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights (accessed on March 15.2014)

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_Rights_of_Mother_Earth  (accessed on March 18.2014)

[3] http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/bolivia-population/(accessed on April 2014)

[4]http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/world/americas/turnabout-in-bolivia-as-economy-rises-from-instability.html (accessed on march 16.2014)