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NEWS: Harper eliminated reviews of tar sands projects following warning of water disruption

Postmedia News reports, “The federal government removed some oilsands projects from a list of those requiring environmental screenings, after being told in an internal memorandum that this form of industrial development could disturb water sources and harm fish habitat.”

The May 5, 2011 memo from a senior assistant deputy minister to the deputy minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans states, “Steam injection operations have the potential to cause surface upheaval and groundwater extraction operations may impact groundwater-surface water interactions. This could result in reductions in surface water flows in watercourses, leading to potential impacts on fish habitat.” The article adds that the memo suggests that some water-intensive in-situ projects also required reviews and authorizatons because of threats to the water supply and fish habitat.

“The memo … came a year before Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government introduced hundreds of pages of changes to Canada’s environmental laws, which will allow the government to exclude some oilsands projects from reviews. In total, the changes eliminated about 3,000 federal environmental assessments, including hundreds of evaluations of projects involving fossil fuels and pipeline development, once the laws were adopted in July 2012. …The Fisheries Act previously allowed for the minister to issue an authorization, allowing industrial developers to disrupt fish habitat, provided that they compensate with other measures to protect ecosystems. The new laws adopted in July, removed a requirement for some authorizations, shifting the focus instead to the protection of commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.”

Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada obtained the memo.

It was Harper’s C-38 omnibus budget legislation that replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with a new act that eliminated 3,000 federal environmental assessments and weakened fish habitat protections by gutting the Fisheries Act. In May 2012, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “The Harper government appears intent on systematically dismantling the few protections that have been put in place at the federal level to protect our freshwater heritage.”

In her January 2013 ‘Common Causes’ report, she highlighted, “The Harper government’s support for the tar sands and the energy industry, has hit a new high. …To hasten energy exploration and development, Harper repealed the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replaced it with a watered-down version that will reduce the number of projects required to undergo a federal environmental assessment, narrow the definition of what might constitute a negative environmental effect, restrict the time allowed for assessments, limit public participation in the process, and give final decision-making authority to Cabinet regardless of what the assessment panel recommends. Under the new rules, 3,000 environmental assessments are now cancelled. Prime Minister Harper also aggressively promotes industry plans to build 14,000 kilometres of new pipelines for tar sands export. Another new rule allows Cabinet, rather than the National Energy Board, to approve them.”

And in her forthcoming book ‘Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever‘, Barlow writes that the right to water and sanitation recognized by the United Nations General Assembly on July 28, 2010 includes the ‘obligation to protect’. That means that every government is now obliged to prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the human right to water. In other words, governments have the obligation to protect local communities from pollution and inequitable extraction of water by corporations or governments. Barlow argues that citizens and communities can now start to hold their governments accountable if mining, energy or fracking companies are destroying their local water sources.

For more, please read:
Harper government eliminated reviews for oilsands projects following warnings of water disruption
Harper and the Environment are Like Oil and Water
Common Causes: Progressive forces acting together to build a better society
UPDATE: Barlow’s new book ‘Blue Future’ to be released on September 28