Environmental rollbacks during Covid-19 in Canada and the U.S.

This post was updated on June 17 to include new developments in Alberta and Ontario. 

On June 3, Canadian journalist Emma McIntosh compiled and published a Canadian list of environmental rollbacks, and continues to update it as changes continue in almost every province.  “Here’s every environmental protection in Canada that has been suspended, delayed and cancelled during COVID-19” in the National Observer, is a compilation built by scouring news reports and legislative websites.  Although it includes all Canadian provinces, the Alberta and Ontario governments are highlighted as the worst offenders, including changes to Alberta’s environmental monitoring in the oil sands and weakening of air quality monitoring .  The inventory was updated to include Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act , which passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11. A 14-point omnibus bill, Bill 22 eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on the oil and gas industry. Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled “Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” – which states that “The agency created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.

In Ontario, early on, the government suspended part two of the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights, excusing the government from notifying or consulting the public on environment-related projects, changes or regulations.  Changes were also made to zoning requirements, to speed the development approval process. Unexpectedly,  the government restored the protections on June , although it has been vague about its reasoning, and more importantly, has not revealed what projects were approved during the suspension period.  “Doug Ford government restores environmental protections it suspended amid COVID-19” (June 15). The article notes that since Premier Doug Ford took office in  2017, “Ontario has cancelled 227 clean energy projects, wound down conservation programs, weakened endangered species protections and has taken away powers from the province’s environmental commissioner.”

In Newfoundland

Although it is not noted in the National Observer inventory yet (updating is ongoing) – Newfoundland joined the ranks of major actors on June 4, when the government press release announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”. This action reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”  A June 4 press release from the federal government endorses the move, according to their press release:  “The Government of Canada announces new regulatory measure to improve review process for exploratory drilling projects in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore” .  

It is notable that the Just Recovery for All campaign launched in Canada on May 25  calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages, and includes as one of its six principles:

“Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In the United States

Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic have been well-reported, with the New York Times maintaining  an ongoing register in “The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List” (last updated on May 20) and more recently, on June 4,  “ Trump, Citing Pandemic, Moves to Weaken Two Key Environmental Protections”. This article notes his Executive Order allowing agencies to waive required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, and a new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency which weakens air pollution controls under the  Clean Air Act regulations.

Greenpeace USA issued a response highlighting the racist intent of these changes, and DeSmog Blog published a blog “Trump EPA’s Refusal to Strengthen Air Quality Standards Most Likely to Harm Communities of Color, Experts Say“.

 

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