Friday, May 8, 2020

Canadian Provincial Governments Use Covid-19 to Give Polluters a Pass

At least two Canadian provinces have suspended environmental regulations in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Both Alberta and Ontario are at war with climate action. These provinces oppose a national carbon tax, despite strong evidence that demonstrates the utility of carbon pricing. Now it would appear that these two provincial governments are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to further erode environmental protections.

Ontario Premiere Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government has systematically dismantled climate action and environmental protections. They have canceled the province’s cap-and-trade program, eliminated 227 clean energy projects, while weakening both conservation programs and endangered species protections.  The Ford government has also eroded the powers of the province’s environmental commissioner.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has been a champion of the fossil fuel industry.  This includes a $30-million propaganda initiative called Canadian Energy Centre which was launched at the end of last year.

At the beginning of April Alberta announced a 60 - 90 day suspension of industrial reporting as part of an order issued under the authority of the provincial state of public health emergency. "All requirements to report information pursuant to provisions in approvals or registrations are suspended," reads the ministerial order signed by Alberta's Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

This mean that that highly polluting industries like fossil fuels, cement manufacturers do not need to report on their activities as they relate to the Water Act, the Public Lands Act and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. 

Although in theory industry must still report on spills or other accidents, there are no assurances that this is being done as many industrial sites are far removed from public scrutiny. While environmental reporting has been suspended in Alberta, permitting for new projects continues including those with concerning environmental impacts.

Ontario is also using the Covid-19 pandemic to suspend its environmental oversight rules. This includes a key section of the Environmental Bill of Rights. This enables the government to avoid posting what it is doing to Ontario’s Environmental Registry thereby circumventing public notification on projects and laws with environmental impacts.
Under the new regulation, government ministries do not have to consult with the public or consider environmental rules as they make decisions. The new rules were put in place under the provinces declaration of a state of emergency and they will stay in place for 30 days after the state of emergency is rescinded.

The conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario are at odds with the both climate science and the state of what we know about the coronavirus. The deadly impacts of pollution on people with Covid-19 make this the worst time to diminish environmental oversight. These changes will decrease government accountability and endanger the health of citizens.

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