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Water protection in Canada may be under threat from Trump’s deregulation agenda

Coal mine pollution

Coal mine pollution. Photo by Matt Wasson, Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Globe and Mail reports, “Republicans have begun unwinding a series of Obama-administration regulations that had been opposed by U.S. oil companies, raising new concerns in the Canadian industry about an erosion of competitiveness. Mr. Trump and his Republican colleagues vow to slash the regulatory burden on the U.S. energy sector – and cut taxes – in order to boost investment and spur production. Some producers on this side of the border will find it harder to raise capital if they are saddled with regulatory costs that their American competitors don’t face.”

PRI notes Trump intends to roll back clean water rules. It highlights, “Trump promises to eliminate the Waters of the United States rule, a technical document that defines which waterways come under the jurisdiction of federal regulators under the Clean Water Act. The 2015 rule is intended to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands from development.”

News Deeply further explains, “Trump has vowed to slash Clean Water Act regulations. In particular, he is targeting rules adopted by the Obama administration to protect wetlands and marshes, the nation’s natural water filters. Trump has vowed to eliminate the so-called Clean Water Rule (also known as the ‘waters of the U.S. rule’). This regulation was crafted to clarify decades of uncertainty about which water bodies are subject to development restrictions under the Clean Water Act. Its goal is to protect surface water expanses – marshes, wetlands, floodplains and small streams – that act as natural filters and conduits for drinking-water sources.”

It has also been reported that the Streams Protection Act is under threat. Bloomberg reports, “Trump has characterized the so-called Stream Protection Rule as ‘excessive’, while Republican lawmakers echo mining industry warnings that the edict could strand billions of dollars of coal in the ground. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from coal-producing Kentucky, has made terminating the Stream Protection Rule one his top priorities.”

Significantly, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has expressed concern about “any potential competitiveness imbalances” between Canada and the United States.

In December 2011, CAPP pushed for changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act in Canada (as well as a number of other Acts including the Species at Risk Act). By June 2012, federal oversight of pipelines and power lines were removed from the Navigable Waters Protection Act and by December 2012, the Navigable Waters Protection Act was changed to the Navigation Protection Act, significantly reducing its scope of rivers and lakes.

In the October 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.”

But 15 months after taking office, the Liberals have not taken any real action on this file apart from various consultation processes. It is believed that the Standing Committee on Transport could release its report by the end of this month or in early March. The Standing Committee on Fisheries is expected to release their report and recommendations on February 28. But there is no definite timeline when the ministers would make decisions on this file and it seems probable that CAPP and other corporate interests will be pushing against restoring the protections we support.

Just last week, CAPP vice-president Ben Brunnen commented in the media, “We’re keenly aware of the importance of a level playing field where investment can flow over the border quite freely.”

It’s vital that the Trudeau government both restores and enhances water protection in this country and that it does not leave these protections gutted or worse yet pursue a course of further environmental deregulation to maintain “a level playing field” with Trump’s deregulated America.