Canada under the influence of oil

Grave consequences for ecology, democracy, and environmental protection   This post contributed by Sean Hoban, a post-doc in conservation biology at the University of Ferrara, Italy The past year has seen some forward-thinking environmental policies in the US: pro-science budgets, automobile fuel efficiency standards, coal power plant and fracking regulations, a recent (though rough) climate commitment, and rejection (for now) of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. We might expect our neighbor Canada, often pictured as a realm of clean water and majestic forests, to at least keep pace. Instead we see the opposite, a worrisome erosion of environmental regulations, depreciation of science, and disregard for democratic process from a conservative and proudly pro-oil government. The following regressive changes matter to ecologists, and just about everyone, worldwide. Budget cuts The recently passed 2013 Canadian federal budget enacts steep cuts to environmental agencies including Parks Canada and Environment Canada, which will reach beyond layoffs to changes in agency priorities and abilities, especially to pollution monitoring and mitigation. Scientist Peter Ross writes an eloquent response here. Another victim is the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an independent, interdisciplinary panel that studied and offered recommendations on air, water, biodiversity, economic, and energy policy. Disturbingly, the government openly admits the reason for disbanding the panel is only partially budgetary- its recommendations on carbon taxes were not in line with government and public opinion: “It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Most problematic is that the budget bill extended far beyond apportionment of funds to radically change dozens of environmental regulations. Even Conservatives say that it was undemocratic to amalgamate so much in a budget bill, that each change deserved separate debate and voting. Fisheries Protection For example, the bill re-words the Fisheries Act, one of Canada’s strongest environmental protection measures, which banned activities resulting in “harm” to any fish habitat. New wording focuses only on “serious harm” (permanent alteration or destruction) to “commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries, or the fish they depend on.” A letter written by the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution states that this will remove protection of most endangered fish and other organisms in the food web, and devalues the inherent importance of habitats and biodiversity, though conservatives defend the measure as re-focusing agency efforts. The change was enacted in spite of opposition from hundreds of scientists, including fisheries organizations. Environmental Assessment In addition to a 40 percent cut in funds for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the government has enacted several changes to environmental review of energy development projects: a cap of one to two...

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