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Letter: Industrial growth trumps air and water
To the editor:
In April 2012, the federal government reduced the number of departments and agencies that can do environmental reviews from 40 to just three to speed up approvals for new industrial development projects.
The government justified this erosion of federal project oversight to protect the environment by saying it would bolster the economy.
To date, the federal government has not made public its cost benefit analysis supporting this claim to boost the economy.
To the contrary, the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River is only 60 per cent recovered and has cost over $1 billion to clean up.
Such high clean up costs and weaker environmental laws in Canada than in the U.S. make it attractive for companies operating in Canada to walk away from their responsibilities.
For example, in August 2013 the MM&A railway, involved in the Lac Megantic oil spill disaster, initiated bankruptcy protection in both the U.S. and Quebec courts because it faces a growing number of lawsuits, legal notices and cleanup costs estimated to exceed $200 million.
On Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced a number of project types that will no longer require a federal environmental assessment, including:
• Groundwater extraction facilities (needed for natural gas fracturing and tar sands oil recovery)
• Heavy oil and oilsands processing facilities, pipelines (other than offshore pipelines) and electrical transmission lines that are not regulated by the National Energy Board
• Potash mines and other industrial mineral mines (salt, graphite, gypsum, magnesite, limestone, clay, asbestos)
• Industrial facilities (pulp mills, pulp and paper mills, steel mills, metal smelters, leather tanneries, textile mills and facilities for the manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pressure-treated wood, particle board, plywood, chemical explosives, lead-acid batteries and respirable mineral fibres).
Eliminating federal oversight enables provinces to assess these projects, which is not in the national public interest.
Stronger, not weaker, federal oversight is needed to ensure every province follows the same rules.
All of these projects pollute the environment and impact terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Allowing provinces to arbitrarily regulate these industries provides no consistent protection for airsheds, watersheds and fish and wildlife habitats that cross provincial boundaries.
Under the new rules, Alberta will now be solely responsible for regulating and approving oilsands and pipeline projects in the province and will rubber stamp them for short-term economic gains.
However, air and water pollutants from these projects will flow into Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories over the long-term, imposing huge costs on these jurisdictions to deal with public health and clean-up issues.
This federal government change is not serving the long-term public interests of Canadians by dismantling environmental oversight to boost the economy.
Rather, these changes will increase the likelihood of environmental impacts and public costs arising from these projects.