Trump and the Environment

Donald Trump’s victory on Tuesday, November 8th, took most of the world by surprise. It certainly took me by surprise.

In the past few days there has been a lot of speculation (and worry) and the implications of a Trump presidency on the environment.

I am still speechless. But I want to provide a list of some useful/insightful commentary.

  1. My colleague Matt Hoffmann (political science, University of Toronto) wrote an informative piece on his blog.  (It is also a good blog of follow if you are interested in climate change more broadly).
  2. Scientific American wrote a piece on Trump’s selection of Myron Ebell to head his EPA transition team. Ebell is a well-known climate skeptic.
  3. The Guardian has a good piece on what Trump means for the global climate change efforts.
  4. The Globe and Mail asks what Trump means for climate change plans in Canada.
  5. The New York Times has run many pieces of relevance here, but I will link you to Andrew Revkin’s opinion.

That is a good list to get you started. Overall, there is reason for real concern. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding what Trump may or may not do. So far, his only action has been to appoint a climate skeptic to lead the EPA transition team. That does not bode well or set a good tone for the next 4 years.

However, as many authors in the above links remind you: US states and cities do have REAL power when it comes to the environment. There is reason for concern, but there is also reason to be hopeful.

Big News: National Price on Carbon

Prime Minister Trudeau announced a new (mandatory) national price on carbon. See the Globe and Mail, the CBC, and even the New York Times.

The provinces and territories have until 2018 to implement either a carbon tax or a cap and trade program. Just like that.

So that seems a bit surprising. Even more so, he is also saying “if you don’t, I will.” If a province or territory does not have a tax or cap & trade by 2018, then the federal government will implement a price in the province or territory. Presumably against their will.

And everyone – provinces, territories, and federal government – must work together to reduce emissions in line with our Paris Protocol commitment. (Trudeau is sticking the Harper government pledge of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030).  This means the price on carbon must be real – not a hand waving or symbolic tax/price. But one that results in significant emission reductions.

Yes, this is the same Trudeau government that just approved the LNG project in British Columbia last week. See the Globe and Mail.  So over there, we are increasing emissions. And over here, we are jumping up and down demanding that everyone decrease emissions. This is in the name of “sustainable” development and flexibility. Thus, if BC can find some way to move ahead with its LNG project WHILE decreasing emissions in line with our Paris pledge, then so be it. Good for BC (and Alberta). The federal government will not stand in the way. But can BC have its cake and eat it to? Does not seem likely.

So I am waiting for the fall-out. Will the Supreme Court get involved? Will it be Quebec or Saskatchewan that jumps starts the case against this federal demand? Is this constitutional? I doubt that Saskatchewan will implement a carbon price by 2018. I will be watching and waiting.

 

Project on Fracking

The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada has finally made grant announcements public. Thus, I am pleased to report that I have been awarded funds to examine the political ecology of the Bakken Formation (this is the shale play in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).

As part of this grant, I am working with 3 undergraduate students and 1 MA student (for now – more students in the future). Two students are going to conduct web-surveys with non-governmental organizations in the region. One student is conducting media analysis. And one student is going to interview landowners and government officials in the region.

Over the next few months, this blog will feature the students’ work. The book The Canadian Environment in Political Context deals with hydraulic fracturing in chapter 8 specifically. But it is also relevant to other issues and concept in the book – such as federalism, air and water pollution, governance, and climate change (to name just a few).

 

Fracking: What is it? (By C. Gagliano-Veiga)

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking is the process of extracting oil or natural gas underground through different types of rock formations – usually shale (Hawkins 2015). This process occurs by sending highly pressurized and large amounts of fracking fluid through horizontal wells to create fractures in the rock formations. These fractures allow for the release of oil or natural gas through now penetrable circuits to the surface through extraction.

Before fracking even occurs, exploration of the recoverable oil and natural gas is made in order to determine the maximum yield with the least amount of environmental impact (Mehany 2016). The rock formation then has to be examined by geoscientists and geo-engineers to determine the amount of recovery time of the environment (Mehany 2016). Production of the extraction site are then made, which include access to the site and building of the physical infrastructure. After the fracking occurs, the collected oil or natural gas has to go through different stages to be completely refined and processed in order to be redistributed (Mehany 2016). Following the completion of a fracking operation in a specified area, restoration to the land should be made in order to maintain the least amount of impact with an attempt to return the land to its former state (Mehany 2016).

There are many opinions about fracking, primarily due to the fact that it uses approximately 2-5 million gallons of fracking fluid per operation, which is primarily made out of 90% water, sand, and other chemicals (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). There are also other environmental and health concerns considered with fracking.

Fracking Concerns

There are two environmental concerns when it comes to fracking and water: water contamination and water consumption.

Water Contamination

            To get to the contained resources, a vertical well is placed through several different layers of earth until it reaches the rock formation, passing through aquifers containing groundwater. Fracking fluid has the capacity to contaminate as it does contain chemicals such as different types of acids, but also because of the release of gas that includes methane, which happens during the fracking process (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). Therefore, there is a possibility of contamination of the groundwater through instances such as accidental blowouts and pipe leakages (Mehany 2016). There is also a possibility for contamination of surface water through other instances such as improper waste removal or surface spills (Mehany 2016).

 Water Consumption

Water consumption is another key issue as each fracking operation uses anywhere between 2-5 million gallons of water. In 2011, a study was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency which found that, “approximately 35,000 fractured wells across the U.S required an estimated 70 to 140 billion gallons of water each year which is equivalent to the total amount of water used annually to support 40 to 80 cities with a population of 50,000 or about 1 to 2 cities of 2.5 million people.” (Mehany 2016, 446). Therefore, not only are there environmental concerns when it comes to fracking, but also other concerns when it comes to overconsumption.

 Air Pollution Concerns

            There are also a number of air pollution concerns as natural gas contains methane, which has likelihood to escape during the fracking process. In 2012, a study found that “producers of natural gas are losing an average of 4% of the gas to the atmosphere” (Mehany 2016, 446). There are also other emissions accumulated by the use of fracking machinery as it a large scale industrial operation. Therefore, along with environmental and overconsumption concerns, there are also concerns to human health.

 Geomechanical Pollution

            There are many geoengineering processes that control seismic activity of faults due to the deformation of the earth’s crust. Fracking, which is a large scale industrial operation, puts stress on the Earth’s crust therefore having the capacity to induce seismic activity (Klose 2012). Fracking generates micro quakes, which are earthquakes that are too low on the richter scale for scientists to record (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). These micro quakes are fairly harmless by themselves and do not pose major threat. However, when they occur simultaneously, they can produce earthquakes with a high of 5.6 on the richter scale (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015).

Why do we Frack?

Fracking occurs because oil or gas is trapped between impenetrable layers of rock that cannot be accessed with normal drilling. Oil and natural gas is a commodity that is bought and sold on world markets, therefore there is a high demand for them (Merrill 2013). According to President Obama in his 2012 State of Union, he declared that there were 600,000 additional jobs given to workers in the United States for fracking alone (Merrill 2013). Therefore, fracking occurs for economic purposes due to its large impact on job and world markets.

In conclusion, there are many debates about fracking, both its influence positively on the world market, but most importantly its negative impact on the environment.

References

Hawkins, J. “Fracking: Minding the Gaps.” Environmental Law Review 17, no. 1 (2015): 8-21. doi:10.1177/1461452914563217.

Lee, Jin-Yong, Matthew Weingarten, and Shemin Ge. “Induced Seismicity: The Potential Hazard from Shale Gas Development and CO2 Geologic Storage.” Geosciences Journal Geosci J 20, no. 1 (2015): 137-48.

Mehany, Mohammed S. Hashem M. “Identifying Cost Centers and Environmental Impacts Needs Assessment for Fracking Life Cycle in the United States.” Procedia Engineering 145 (2016): 444-51.

Merrill, Thomas W. “Four Questions about Fracking” The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom.”. Case Western Reserve Law Review 63.4 (2013): 971-994.

Klose, Christian D. “Mechanical and Statistical Evidence of the Causality of Human-made Mass Shifts on the Earth’s Upper Crust and the Occurrence of Earthquakes.” J Seismol Journal of Seismology 17, no. 1 (2012): 109-35. doi:10.1007/s10950-012-9321-8.

Ontario Budget 2016

Last week, Premier Wynn prorogued the provincial legislative assembly. This ended the session and effectively “killed” all bills that were on the table. She wiped the slate clean. So all bills that were in progress will need to be re-introduced in this next session (if they are to become law).

On Monday, Wynne hit the “go button” with the launch of the Ontario Budget. You can find a link to the budget here.

I do not have a lot to say about it in terms of environmental policy relevance. The big announcement was a 8% tax CUT on electricity for residents. See the Globe and Mail article for more details. That isn’t really environmental. In fact, it might make things worse because people might use MORE electricity as it will become cheaper to do so. Um. So why is Wynne doing that? Cynical answer: re-election. Less cynical answer: people are angry and she is responding. The feed-in-tariff system in Ontario means that residents overpay for alternative energy – thus, incentivizing people to produce wind and solar energy. However, residents to do not like paying so much electricity… in fact, it made a lot of people really angry. So the government is going to cut the cost.

On the more environmental side, there are big promises around public transportation – especially in the ever-growing GTA. But like other green promises in the budget, it is all tied to “business” and “growth.” The main theme is really sustainable DEVELOPMENT. Wynne wants to grow – the economy. And suggests this can be done in a “green” way. A lot of the green promises involve “investments” as opposed to “protections” or “regulations.”

In fact, there is little spending on strictly environmental issues – like endangered species, parks, bodies of water, and air quality. The only mention of water is regarding public health (safety) and not environmental health.

This budget leaves a lot to be desired for the average environmentalist. Right now, almost 50% of the budget is spent on health care. There is a connection there, no?

Back to Class

September already. Classes resume at the University of Toronto Mississauga this week. I am once again teaching the introduction to environmental policy in Canada. This is the course for which I wrote the book The Canadian Environment in Political Context. This year-long course is offered on-line so students from the three UT campus’ can enrol in the course. This year I have 145 students in the course.

In the fall semester we will start making our way through the book, but linger on chapter 5 (my favourite – on Species at Risk!) and then put down the book, only to pick up the The Oak Ridges Moraine Battles :

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(Photo Credit: University of Toronto Press).

This book will give students a look into their backyards as we explore urban sprawl and habitat loss. The focus will also be on policy actors at multiple scales: federal, provincial, Indigenous, and non-governmental.

In the winter semester we jump back to The Canadian Environment in Political Context and start focusing on energy and climate change. These are big topics and there is a lot to learn… and even more to debate. Next year (2017, I mean) is Canada’s 150th birthday. The class is going to celebrate this by learning about our Arctic history. We are a Northern nation, after all. And while the Northern territories were not part of Canada 150 years ago, it is important that we know how our big country came together to become a Northern nation. We will be reading Polar Imperative:

41-qDswjwVL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

(Photo Credit: Douglas &McIntyre)

The course ends will chapters 11 and 12 in The Canadian Environment in Political Context. Here we look back at where Canada has been and then look forward to where we might be headed.

In the next 8 months you can expect this blog to be updated with new information for the class and text. You can also expect a lot of posts on conservation, and then Arctic policy in the context of climate change and Canadian history.

 

Ontario + Quebec +… Mexico = CC Agreement?

According to the Globe and Mail, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec have signed an agreement with Mexico on climate policy. Why wouldn’t Canada sign the deal? Good question.

As pretty much every chapter in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains, federalism means divided and shared powers between two or more levels of government. In Canada, the Constitution divides power over environmental issues between the provinces and the federal government. With regard to natural resources and energy, the provinces have the bulk of the power (see Chapter 8 specifically). Essentially, the federal government cannot make climate policy because the federal government does not have jurisdiction over natural resource extraction on provincial lands. It cannot regulate CO2 emissions from sources it cannot control. (The US government is similar, but their federal government found a loop hole – it declared CO2 a toxic chemical and regulates it under federal chemical legislation).

Ontario’s provincial government has power to make policy regarding Co2 (and other emissions) inside the province. Quebec’s provincial government has the same power. Both provinces have adopted fairly stringent climate policy. They have also created an agreement – with the state of California – to engage in cap and trade together. They can trade permits to emit CO2 between the provinces and states.

Okay, so today, Ontario and Quebec signed an agreement with Mexico. What does that mean? It means that companies or industries that produce CO2 in Ontario or Quebec can purchase emission-reduction credits in Mexico. Sounds complicated, right? Imagine if a cement manufacturing company in Ontario wants to emit more CO2 than it has permits (or permissions) to do so. The company would either have to buy another permit OR it can reduce emissions in Mexico somewhere to offset its emission in Ontario. The company in Ontario pays an emitter in Mexico to keep the fossil fuel in the ground. That means overall in North America, emissions go down. They might rise in Ontario and go down in Mexico. They might rise in Quebec and go down in Ontario… or California…or Mexico. The CAP goes down over time – that means that emissions have to go down. More fossil fuels stay in the ground. But it can uneven… here or there.

My Journey as a Blogger (A. Koundourakis)

Everyone, we’re nearly done summer. That means its time to look back and review the policies over the summer. We started with the Ontario budget plan, where the Ontario government has committed $7 billion to protecting the environment. This plan includes the corrected section where natural gas is not omitted from the system. Next, the Federal government pledged $197.1 million over five years to increase ocean and freshwater scientific research and monitoring. They also built conservation targets of protecting 10% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020. Next blog was much closer to home where the Federal government committed to amending the Rouge National Park Act. Here, the Ontario government had agreed to transfer over 9,000 acres of the Scarborough Rouge Valley over to the Federal government. A considerably larger scale deal that occurred in Ottawa at the North American Leaders Summit, where the leaders of Mexico, America and Canada met to discuss their climate change efforts. Here they committed to 50% clean energy by 2025; reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45% by 2025, and finally habitat preservation for the monarch butterfly. As the weeks went on, there was a collaboration between 20 Canadian companies that all signed on to join the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. The coalition is designed to bring governments and businesses together to identify and address the challenges to carbon pricing as a way to combat climate change. Diplomats from all around the world even met in Vienna to improve the Montreal Protocol. They agreed to avoid a rise by 0.5C by 2100 and 0.1 by 2050. This will be done by using the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF), where donor countries will help developing countries phase out CFCs. Getting a little closer to home, the next week I wrote about Wataynikaneyap phasing out diesel power and joining Ontario’s hydro power. The Ontario government will invest $1.35 Billion towards the transmission in order to help save millions of dollars for the locals and help protect the environment from diesel carbon emissions. Finally, I wrote about the IJC, a committee that helps fix disputes over transboundary water. Here, the IJC wrote about 32 policies that could be implemented to protect the Lake of the Woods water basin. Four of which can be implemented immediately.

Looking back, I look at how much we’ve come the past year. We’ve been getting better: we’ve (our governments) gone through global collaboration, at the COP21, to inhibit climate change and shortly our governments, provincial and federal, sat to discuss an action plan; the North American governments came together to collaborate on an action plan to better our three countries; we met with countries in Vienna to use alternatives to HFCs; we met with businesses to sign a carbon pricing initiative; and finally we’ve worked with the IJC to come up with several policies that could be used to help the Lake of the Woods basin. If you haven’t gotten where I’m trying to go, I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of meeting. There’s a lot of spending as well now that I think about it. I met a lady where I work, I can’t remember where she was flying to but she mentioned how working in an interest group there is a lot of flying around to have a meeting about having a meeting. Its 2016, we’ve had years to have meetings, why haven’t these meetings come and gone already? Were there other topics to discuss at the time? Was there a lack of interest in the topics? The other pattern emerging is money. $1.35 billion, $7 billion, from one of Khan’s blogs I found that there is a $237 million investment in genome research (I’m not against research, its progress so this isn’t a complaint, more to prove a point about money spending), The Ontario Action Plan will cost $8.3 billion. A lot of money is being spent to invest in cleaner energy and fighting climate change.

The future is going to bring a lot of different things for Canada and the world in terms of climate change and new technologies to combat it. The government of Canada want to plan for a sustainable future. They outlined 8 goals for the foreseeable future. Goal 1 is to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels to mitigate the severity and unavoidable impacts of climate change. Goal 2 is to minimize the threats to air quality so that the air Canadians breathe is clean and support healthy ecosystems. Goal 3 is to protect the quality of water so that it is clean, safe and secure for all Canadians and supports healthy ecosystems. Goal 4 is to enhance information to ensure that Canadians can manage and use water resources in a manner consistent with the sustainability of the resource. Goal 5 is to maintain or restore populations of wildlife to healthy levels. Goal 6 is to maintain productive and resilient ecosystems with the capacity to recover and adapt; and protect areas in ways that leave them unimpaired for present and future generations. Goal 7 is to build sustainable production and consumption of biological resources that are within ecosystem limits. Finally, goal 8 is to minimize the environmental footprint of government operations. With these 8 goals in mind, look for changes in these areas and as you, do look back at past government policies and reflect on how well or poorly they have achieved their goals. The government is ultimately accountable to you; if you’re not satisfied with their changes let your local MP be aware of your concerns. Sure, the government will keep changing the way we live, whether for the better or worse, but it’s up to us to make sure it stays on the better side of the line. We have made progress and we have the materials and resources to continue that progress, which is something to be optimistic about, but we, as citizens, should not be complacent in our actions.

By next year I hope to see a cleaner Mississauga and all around GTA. I hope to see more electric vehicles on the road and cleaner technologies being used by transportation and other industries around the country. I hope to see Ontario continue to invest in cleaner energy and actually some returns on those investments, not only environmentally but financially as well. I hope to see clean water being used in a sustainable way. I heard about a petition going on against Nestle water being allowed to pump water from the Guelph region aquifers. Bottled water is an unnecessary product and I feel like we’ve been unable to limit our use of it. More and more people need to be able to carry their own bottled water from home, its much cheaper and much more of a convenience than carrying around plastic bottled water. This is an example of not only government policy, but of consumer trends. Like I said earlier, we need to play our part and stop using so much of an unnecessary product. One shouldn’t point their fingers at the government for action, point it at themselves. That’s ultimately what I hope for the next year, personal awareness and action.

Trudeau

Trudeau casually reminding you to save the environment.

(Photo credit: Darpa Magazine)

My Journey as a Blogger (U. Khan)

As the summer draws to a close, with it ends my time at this blog. Fourteen weeks have passed since I joined this blog. In that time, I have written about topics ranging from the forest fires in Fort McMurry to Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. The unifying factor between all these blogs has been the fact that they all feature ideas presented in The Canadian Environment in a Political Context, demonstrated through various current events happening all over Canada. In the process of writing these blogs, I have learned a lot about environmental policy in Canada, and also improved my writing abilities.

One of my favourite blogs from this year was the post about microbeads. It was great because I learned a lot of new information writing the blog, which continues to influence my consumer habitats. It was also interesting because the issue is ongoing. Since the writing of the blog, the government decided to act on the issue and labelled microbeads as “toxic substances,” thus moving closer towards a ban of the substance. I have always had an interest in current events, but writing this blog forced me to read a lot of newspapers and truly stay on top of the news. This is one habit I hope to continue in the future.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read these blogs. I hope that these blogs have been informative and increased your understanding of some of the environmental issues in Canada.

giphy

Canada and the US Partner Up to Address Lake of the Woods Water Basin (A. Koundourakis)

Back in early 2015, the International Joint Commission (IJC) recommended 32 projects to address concerns in the Lake of the Woods Water Basin titled, “A Water Quality Plan of Study for the Lake of the Woods Basin“. The IJC is simply a committee that helps the USA and Canada prevent disputes over transboundary water. Canadians and Americans both contribute to the IJC’s annual budget, where Canada allocated $6-$8 million per year. Lake of the Woods water basin is located near the border of Ontario and Manitoba, while a majority of the basin is located in Ontario.

Lake of the River Basin

Now, of the 32 projects, four have the capability to be immediately implemented. Project 27, which is an International Platform for Implementation, is important for any future binational management opportunities. Project 14, which is a rapid evaluation and implementation of options to manage recent zebra mussel infestation in the headwaters. These non-native species have a threefold effect on the ecosystem: they harm native species; they reduce the game population; and they have costly effects on water infrastructure. Project 1, which is a recommendation for long term funding of Wheeler’s Point Gage and Designation as a Gage of Binational Significance. This one is important because there is a need of a robust monitoring system that provides long term and consistent data for tracking trends in nutrients, contaminants and aquatic invasive species. Finally, the fourth recommendation is a combination of Projects 5 and 7, which is an implementation of proven best management practices (BMPs) and removal of solids from effluent. Where BMPs have been identified as effective at reducing nutrient loads from agricultural lands, the IJC believes they should be implemented immediately. Effluent from sewage and wastewater treatment facilities is an important source of nutrients that can impact lakes and rivers.

They also recommended 11 projects that help improve the management of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and reduce their severity and frequency. HABs occur in basins due to climatic, chemical and biological factors. One of the major contributors to HABs is a high level of phosphorous that originates from detergents, fertilizers, manure and decaying plants.

Satellite Image of a Cyanobacteria Bloom Resulting from High Phosphourous Levels_

They recommended 7 projects to strengthen prevention measures and pursue control efforts. All this means is that they want to strengthen their ability to target non-native species. These 7 projects will result in a better understanding on contamination sources, improve our ability to assess vulnerability of water resources and establish protective measures. The water basin and land nearby has contaminated sites that have resulted from large scale mining, petroleum transport and catastrophic breaches of agriculture chemicals.

There are 6 projects to help build greater capacity for engaging all interests on water quality management. The IJC said that there are a variety of concerns in terms of community engagement for water quality management. These include a comprehensive, coordinated approach for addressing water quality concerns that seem to be lacking; diverse approaches that are lacking; there currently is a limited ability to coordinate management efforts; there is limited public awareness and access to information; and finally there is limited indigenous people’s engagement. I know that the Liberal government promised to improve indigenous relations, so the last challenge shouldn’t be of much concern.

The Government of Canada’s 2016 Budget proposed up to $19.5 million (can be found under “Managing Transboundary Water Issues”) over five years, starting fiscal year 2016 to 2017, to study water quality, quantity and flooding issues in four Canada-United States boundary basins with the goal of protecting the local environment and communities. Of the $19.5 million, $5.5 million of funding will be allocated to Environment and Climate Change Canada to undertake the required science and monitoring to implement, with the United States, a binational science plan for the Lake of the Woods Basin. The two countries determined that developing and implementing a binational science plan focused on phosphorus reduction within the basin is the most effective approach to address water quality issues in Lake of the Woods. The Canadian government said that they will collaborate with the IJC, First Nations, Metis, provinces and local stakeholders such as interests groups like the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation in order to produce new understandings that will benefit the residents of the Lake of the Woods Basin.

Chart showing a drop in phosphorous levels entering Lake of the Woods from Rainy River. Water quality has dropped, while phosphorous has as well. (H

In 2010, local residents had voiced their concerns that the water quality in the region had declined. This led to a follow up by the Canadian and American governments who requested that the IJC examine and make recommendations to improve the water quality. This led to the IJC’s 2014 report, in which they recommended that a water quality plan of study be developed for the Lake of the Woods Basin in order to better understand the issues in the basin to inform remediation steps. This finally led to the January 2015 report where the 32 projects were introduced.

Water is one of the things I’m particularly concerned about. If anyone’s been to a dinner party and the topic has changed to water, you’ll always hear “water is going to be the next oil” or how “countries will go to war over water.” I don’t like the fact that our water basins are getting bad enough that those measures need to be taken to correct it. Water preservation and care should not be a reactive measure; it should be proactive or never be required in the first place. I do understand we need it for so much more than for ourselves and nature, but also for agriculture and mining, so a balance needs to be struck in our usage. I also know that there have been several improvements in recycling, cleaning and conservation of water over recent years. A lot of investors, particularly those investing in ethical funds, invest in water. If anyone’s interested in investing trends, there are a handful of big money men that are betting on water. We are getting better and we will get there one day.