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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Workplace resistance to the Trump agenda, and tracking the changes

The deliberately-executed distraction and turmoil of President Trump’s policies in the U.S. threaten and weary us all, at the same time that well-planned  resistance is most necessary.  Long-time activist Frances Fox-Piven wrote in The Nation in January, before the Inauguration,  “Throw sand in the gears of everything”, reflecting on past resistance movements in U.S. history, including civil rights and the Vietnam War.  She asks, “ So how do resistance movements win—if they win—in the face of an unrelentingly hostile regime? The answer, I think, is that by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, resistance movements can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages”.  Fox Piven puts strong hope in the actions of state and local governments, as well as citizen action. She also points to the defining protest which finally turned government policy on the Vietnam War: soldiers refused to followed orders.

In   “Where’s the best place to resist Trump? At Work” ( Washington Post ,Jan. 31; re-posted to Portside) the authors argue that  “ From solidarity strikes to slowdowns and sit-ins, workplace revolt is a key strategy in opposing the new administration”.  Describing some of the early anti-Trump protests, they state:  “These actions are indispensable, and may form the seeds of a new movement, but people should not ignore one of the most powerful means of resistance and protest that they have: their roles as workers.” Federal workers are not the only ones with the power to resist and disrupt, though federal workers are leading the way with courageous initiatives such as information leaks and alternative Twitter accounts.  The longshoremen in Oakland, California for example, declined to report for work on Inauguration Day :  see “Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work”   in In These Times  (Jan. 23).  Or read “Some New York Taxi Drivers Are Striking In Protest Of Trump’s Refugee Ban”  in Buzzfeed (Jan. 29).

altepaResistance by federal workers is described in “In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump”  a February 1 article from Common Dreams.  Another ongoing, public form  are the many   “rogue” Twitter accounts, started by the National Parks Service ,and now including very active accounts at  alt_EPA (with over 300,000 followers), alt_Interior  , alt_NOAA  , alt­_DOL , and more.  Ironically, they form a goldmine of activist information.  But beware of trolling accounts and imposter accounts.

Other web sources to follow U.S. developments, especially those related to climate change and environmental regulations,  are: Climate Central   ;   Common Dreams   ; Democracy Now: Donald Trump Coverage ; Inside Climate NewsThink Progress ; and   350.org   . Also notable,  Deregulation Tracker , where the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Columbia Law School) is  monitoring changes to  legislation and regulations, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative , which  is  monitoring, documenting, and analyzing changes to approximately 25,000  federal  websites using proprietary software that allows them to track changes to the language and code.  Climate Central published “The EPA Has Started to Remove Obama-era Information”   (Feb. 2)  based on the EDGI monitoring.

President Obama’s Landmark Executive Actions to Cut Coal Plant Emissions and Protect Oceans

For details about the June regulatory initiatives in the United States, go to: Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule at the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule and for commentary, see `Taking Page from Health Care Act, Obama Climate Plan relies on States“ in the New York Times (June 2) at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/us/politics/obama-epa-rule-coal-carbon-pollution-power-plants.html. The Pembina Institute highlights the growing gap between Canadian and U.S. climate leadership at http://www.pembina.org/blog/us-action-on-climate-amplifies-leadership-vacuum-in-ottawa; The Natural Resources Defence Council discusses the possible impacts on jobs at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/new_carbon_pollution_standards.html and http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140529.asp . Regarding the U.S. Executive Order on June 17th to expand protection of the oceans, see the White House press release at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/17/presidential-memorandum-comprehensive-framework-combat-illegal-unreporte , and “Pew Applauds Obama Administration`s New Focus on Illegal Fishing” at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/news/2014/06/pew-applauds-obama-administrations-new-focus-on-illegal-fishing or “ Obama to Expand Marine Reserves and Crack Down on Seafood Black Market“ at The Guardian (June 17) at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/17/obama-oceans-marine-reserves-leonardo-dicaprio

U.S. Announces Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions

On March 28th, the White House released a Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions as part of the overall Climate Action Plan. It includes plans and timetables for research and consultation for agriculture, landfill, coal mining and oil and gas. Re oil and gas, the press release states: “in the fall of 2014, EPA will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016”. See the press release and overview at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/28/strategy-cut-methane-emissions; see the full Strategy Document at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/strategy_to_reduce_methane_emissions_2014-03-28_final.pdf.

GHG Emissions in United States

On October 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released greenhouse gas data from its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which provides information from over 8,000 facilities in the largest emitting industries, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills, and landfills. It provides carbon pollution emissions and trends broken down by industrial sector, greenhouse gas, geographic region, and individual facility. It also measures production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air-conditioning. See the program homepage at: http://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting/; a press release at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/eecb62db73ee67b485257c0d0058936b!OpenDocument. Note that the more comprehensive U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory data was released in April 2013; see: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.