Photo by wikimedia/PMX. Some rights reserved.
You’ve heard of Canada. Exporters of the finest maple syrups, snow-dusted land of elk and hockey, America’s sun hat (and just to be clear, that was an intentional “land of milk and honey” joke). When last we checked in with the great white north, the government of Alberta was setting up advanced techniques to monitor oil sands, in anticipation of the “infamously stalled” Keystone Pipeline (more on that here).
Now it appears that, in the face of a recent “lobbying blitz” by Canadian officials in support of that dastardly Keystone XL, the necessary voice of opposition is on its way to Washington. Yes, Tom Mulcair (leader of the Official Opposition in Canadian government, which is currently his New Democratic Party) will arrive in D.C. this week to oppose recent claims by the Canadian government (whom he says is “playing people for fools”) that Canada is only backing the Keystone project because it’s not as bad for the climate and the environment as its opponents claim it is. Muclair argues that these statements are fundamentally dishonest, as Canada’s environmental record is spottier than officials claim (they are the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, and fail to meet the emission targets set at Copenhagen).
President Obama, who holds the omnipotent decision power on the Keystone project because it crosses country borders, has so far indicated that he is leanings towards scrapping Keystone, even as its proponents argue that this would result in a huge loss of potential jobs in the energy market.
However, as we also learn this week that 20% of Canada’s glaciers could melt by the year 2100 if the global average temperature rises 5.4 degrees or more in the interim time (a rate that fits with projected models), it seems to me that doing everything we can to protect Canada’s majestic natural beauty is in our own best interest! After all, a loss of all that glacial ice would result in a 1.4 inch rise in global sea levels, and we’ve discussed how that kind of change could negatively affect all sorts of other things.
Photo by Carl Chapman. Some rights reserved.
Just days after the pomp and circumstance of the Inauguration, President Obama is being confronted with a renewed push to make a decision on one of the more divisive environmental issues of his presidency – the Keystone pipline. On Tuesday, Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska approved new revisions to the pipeline route through the state, which became the last of the six states along the route to approve the plan. The President had previously delayed the approval process due to concerns about the Nebraska route, including possible effects on nearby water supplies in the event of a spill. A group of 53 Senators sent a letter to Obama encouraging swift approval of the new plan.
One piece of the puzzle is still missing – an environmental review of the plan by the State Department is still underway and is expected to be completed sometime in March. While that review is separate, the approval from Nebraska at the state level has increased pressure to resolve the situation.
Photo by Ben Brooksbank. Some rights reserved.
A press release from the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) back in February of 2012 urged House Leadership to stop consideration of H.R. 7 (which authorizes funding for federal surface transportation), claiming that the bill would “kill jobs, undermine safety, eliminate important funding for public transit and other transportation options, and destroy environmental protections.”
The SEEC’s press release went on to point out that this “worst transportation bill ever” is the first in recent history to be developed without bipartisan support, and could face delays due to “apparent lack of Republican support.”
Now, however, the SEEC is complaining because the Republicans found a way to support it: through a series of amendments that the SEEC calls “anti-environmental.”
According to The Hill’s Transportation Report, the SEEC sent a letter to transportation bill negotiators in late May, calling for the exclusion of three House environmental provisions from a final version of the bill. Transportation Issues Daily summarized the three provisions:
- a mandate forcing the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
- a revision in requirements for transportation projects to comply with National Environmental Protection Act
- blocking EPA authority over coal waste (aka “coal ash” provision)
Now it’s up to the conference committee that is considering the bill to make a final decision. The Hill suggests that it may not meet its deadline for reaching a compromise.
Photo by Martin Loader. Some rights reserved.
Oil sands, now synonymous with the infamously stalled Keystone Pipeline, have an inexorable future in Canada, regardless of Keystone’s fate. And our neighbors to the north aren’t denying it: a recent newsletter from law firm Gowlings reports on steps the Governments of Canada and Alberta are jointly taking to enhance monitoring systems that would track “cumulative effects and environmental change” in the oil sands area.
The Government of Alberta’s web page on oil sands monitoring is cautiously optimistic about development in the region – “Albertans have high expectations that we excel at both energy production and environmental protection – we can have it both ways.”
It appears that the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring is just one part of an attempt to provide, well, disinfectant through sunlight. By offering coordinated and comprehensive information to the public about oil sands development, the two governments hope to “enhance our ability to detect environmental change and manage cumulative effects.”
Some of the planned improvements to existing (and currently disparate) monitoring programs are as follows:
- the number of sampling sites will be higher and over a larger area;
- the number and types of parameters being sampled will increase;
- the frequency (how many times) that sampling occurs each year will be significantly increased; and
- the methodologies for monitoring for both air and water will be improved
The plan not only describes the increased monitoring efforts to be phased in over the next three years, but also the development of an integrated data management system to host all the data – the Oil Sands Data Management Network. The new “OS_DMN” will presumably replace or supplement the existing Government of Alberta Oil Sands Information Portal, a “one-window source for information on the environmental impacts of oil sands development.”
While response to the plan is reportedly positive, The Calgary Herald points out a few glaring omissions:
[one] thing that stands out is the upfront acknowledgment that “this plan does not deal with implementation issues like funding and responsibilities of existing organizations or institutions.”
The plan speculates that “the total cost of enhanced monitoring beyond what the two governments currently spend would be up to $50 million per year.”