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Ontarians head to the polls on Thursday to elect the next provincial government, at the close of an election campaign where green energy has emerged as a hot-button issue. As the rhetoric has escalated on all sides of the debate, Ontario voters have also had to wade through a great deal of misinformation about their energy options.
As the price of gas continues to fluctuate, drivers are feeling the pinch, and they're looking for someone to blame — be it the HST, the energy companies or political unrest in the Middle East. Many motorists are also calling for the government to step in and provide relief. Meanwhile, the Ontario government claims that if it reduces prices at the pump through tax decreases, energy companies will just jump in and inflate prices to fill the gap.
Freshly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent made no apologies for the oilsands' environmental record when speaking with media outlets including the Globe and Mail and CBC's Evan Solomon this week, calling the industry "ethical in every sense of the word."
It's a familiar argument, drawn from the playbook of Conservative pundit Ezra Levant — and a classic case of the rhetorical device called bait-and-switch.
Amid all the controversy over pipeline projects recently, one critical fact is being overlooked: government regulators have already approved more than 5 million barrels per day of oilsands production, and we could reach that milestone just over two decades from now.
Public attitudes towards the environment have changed palpably and rapidly; Canada's record as one of the worst environmental performers in the world has taken its toll, and Canadians are telling anyone who will listen that fixing this disgraceful situation is a top concern.
We must be close to a turning point in investing in the environment, because the budget tabled today couldn't do much less.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Though originally written as a social criticism of the period leading up to the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’ words seem an equally appropriate characterization of the past year for energy and environment issues in Canada.
If Premier Stelmach chooses to implement the Royalty Review Panel's full set of recommendations and delivers Albertans’ their fair share, this is what I think my first son might have to say 23 years from now...
Yesterday I turned 24 at the Bella Centre. While somewhat unconventional as far as birthday celebrations go, I can't think of a more meaningful way to spend the day than fighting for a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.
Heading into this weekend's high-profile G8 and G20 summits, the main climate story in Canada had been Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to downplay the role of climate change on the leaders' agendas.
But with just a day before the summits get underway, Environment Minister Jim Prentice has added some promising news to Canada's international climate story, thanks to the long-awaited announcement of the government's contribution to "fast start" climate financing.
The greenhouse gas pollution produced by the wells, pipelines, processing plants and liquefaction facilities needed to fulfill British Columbia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) aspirations will make it impossible for the province to meet its climate change commitments. Yet, the province says it still intends to “maintain leadership on climate change and clean energy.”
Having trouble squaring that circle? You wouldn’t be alone.
A Credible Climate Plan for Ontario No One Is Saying It Will Be Easy but the Sooner the Province Acts to Cut Emissions, the Less It Will Cost
Manitoba, Quebec sand B.C. have at least stepped up to the plate with plans. Where is Ontario?
Any single weather event can be dismissed as usual weather variability. Although we must be prudent not to attribute every extreme — or indeed any particular one — to climate change, recent extreme events may indicate a new normal. The clustering and persistence of recent extremes around the world is a wake-up call to the power of nature and the threat of climate change.
It's an impressive run by any measure. Under the leadership of Marlo Raynolds the Pembina Institute doubled its budget, doubled its staff, improved its media presence three-fold and almost quadrupled its output of reports and ideas for a sustainable energy future.
The UN climate talks that wrapped up over the weekend in Cancun went a long way towards healing the wounds from last year's disappointing Copenhagen negotiations.
In some ways, the Cancun talks became Copenhagen's mirror image, and not just because of the contrast between the sparkling waves and sunshine of Cancun and the wintry Danish capital.
When it comes to climate financing, the Copenhagen deal can't turn into a sprint, where countries pledge some funding now but pull up lame after 2012. Instead, short-term dollars are just the very first steps of a long race.
Nearly half of Canadians surveyed in a new poll by Angus Reid say they are "dissatisfied" with Prime Minister Harper's performance at the Copenhagen climate talks. (A further 25% of respondents chose "not sure," and just 9% pronounced themselves "very satisfied," while 19% are "moderately satisfied".)
Luckily for the Prime Minister, the work towards a strong global climate deal is far from over - Copenhagen was a beginning, not an ending.
The federal government has repeatedly touted its forthcoming regulations for coal-fired electricity as proof that it’s serious about climate change. It was therefore concerning to see reports from the Globe and Mail last week that suggest the government might “backtrack” on their coal regulations even before the final version has seen the light of day.
On Friday Dec. 4, a friend, colleague and very important person in the pursuit of helping Alberta improve its environmental performance passed away. His name was Peter Dickey. Over the past decade I had the honor to get to know Peter as he provided mentorship and feedback on how the Pembina Institute should pursue our objectives.
A “harmonization of outcomes” far off as U.S. prepares to regulate more sources of climate pollution
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations for industrial greenhouse gas emissions from major new and modified facilities took effect earlier this month — and despite dire warnings from some U.S. industry lobby groups, the sky appears to have remained in place!
Recently, the EPA took a second important step forward, introducing plans to regulate climate change pollution from all new and existing power plants and refineries. The move to establish standards for two separate source categories signals that the EPA is moving forward carefully on GHGs, rather than proposing a broader cap-and-trade system under the Clean Air Act.
It’s not often we see international praise for climate change policy in Canada, but that’s exactly what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) did in a recent report, highlighting British Columbia’s carbon tax as a leading example of carbon pricing.
Today marks a landmark shift in opposition to continued expansion of oilsands development, with the start of a hearing into the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s (ACFN) constitutional challenge against Shell Canada’s application to expand the Jackpine Mine oilsands project. The first of its kind in Alberta, the constitutional challenge is based in part on concerns that Shell’s project will impact the ACFN’s ability to exercise treaty rights such as hunting and fishing in a meaningful way into the future.
On Wednesday, the federal government announced its finalized regulations to limit climate-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants. As we had anticipated months ago, the final regulations don’t go nearly far enough to help Canada keep its climate change and clean energy commitments or safeguard ourselves, and our children, from coal pollution.
There is no doubt energy will be on the agenda for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. Whether talking about climate change or oil, the two countries are closely intertwined. And Harper might want to think carefully before promoting Canadian leadership on climate change or oilsands development.
The Government of Alberta reported this month that air quality in areas near oilsands development in Northern Alberta was recorded as exceeding warning levels in 2012. While investments in air quality monitoring are beginning to pay off, this data will place a new Premier in a difficult position.
As a second wave of oiled ducks created outrage about the consequences of oilsands tailings lakes, another oilsands story broke last week that impacts far greater numbers of waterfowl.
On Friday, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner announced that the Alberta government is not planning to implement the recommendations of the Alberta Water Council.
Over the months ahead, expect to hear frequent references to a new report released Wednesday comparing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with oilsands production to emissions from other sources of crude oil used in Europe. We took a close read of the report, prepared for the Government of Alberta by Jacobs Consultancy, and there seems to be a problem: the report’s findings about how oilsands compare to conventional oil do not tell the full story, and government documents appear to misinterpret the implications of those findings.
Alberta released its draft plan for the Lower Athabasca Region earlier this week, and there was certainly no shortage of drama as commentators digested what it all means — with sometimes comical degrees of accuracy.
Tuesday's breathless headlines — including reports that Alberta oilsands companies were "stunned" by the plan, and a bizarre and factually inaccurate press release by Alberta's Wildrose Alliance Party arguing that protecting land (in an area that has virtually no oil potential) represented a "devastating assault" on the province's economy — have since been followed by more sober assessments.
Alberta’s newly appointed climate change minister, Diana McQueen, caused a stir by saying the province fully intended to meet its 2020 climate target. Alberta officials have long acknowledged that things were off course, and efforts to strengthen key policies and right the ship have been delayed repeatedly. It’s worth a deeper look at why the sudden optimism caught people off guard, and what it holds for Alberta’s larger climate challenge.
We've all seen the photos: northern Alberta's boreal forest marked by open pit mines, polluting smokestacks and growing tailings lakes. It's what oilsands mining looks like. With this big mess comes a big price tag and it looks like Alberta taxpayers might be left on the hook for the lion's share ($10 to $15 billion) of the cleanup bill, according to a report recently released by the Pembina Institute.
We're told not to lose sleep over oilsands reclamation though. After all, oilsands mine operators are required to clean up the land they disturb. Just in case operators don't follow through with that reclamation, the Government of Alberta collects what amounts to a security deposit to cover reclamation costs.
The problem is, it doesn't look as though the Government of Alberta has been collecting enough money to cover the cleanup - not anywhere near enough money.
Albertans don’t just pay to ride the resource rollercoaster — they risk having to clean up once the carnival leaves town
There’s a carnival in town, and everyone is talking about its main attraction — the mighty resource rollercoaster that is taking Alberta’s and Canada’s economies for a wild ride. Albertans are already paying a premium at the ticket booth, but few have noticed the fine print on the bottom of the receipt: once the carnival leaves town, ticketholders may be left paying for the cleanup costs.
I had a little bit of U.S.-envy as I read an article describing a delay by our neighbours to the south in leasing land for natural gas production while the greenhouse gas implications of the decision were considered. I was envious because Alberta doesn't follow any such process for oilsands development.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cited Alberta's version of carbon pricing as a model that could be applied at a national scale. Our analysis has found that an Alberta-style model could work at the national level — but it wouldn’t be ideal.
Next week, an important piece of legislation will continue through its third reading in the Alberta legislature. Bill 31, the protecting Alberta’s environment act, would establish the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) to obtain relevant scientific data and information regarding the condition of the environment in Alberta.
While the bill is essential to establish an independent monitoring agency — a goal we support — the proposed legislation has some basic flaws. Even more concerning, the government has been surprisingly closed-minded in responding to amendments proposed in the legislature that would enhance the bill.
After eight years of deliberation, Alberta has essentially handed industry a free pass when it comes to compensating for the loss of wetlands in the oilsands region. Given the pressure the government is under to show its environmental scruples these days, you’d think it would have seized this opportunity. Instead, the policy gave the oilsands industry at least a two-year exemption from taking any responsibility for wetlands.
Earlier this year, we published a backgrounder assessing recent controversies and claims surrounding the integrity of climate science. There have been several new developments since then, so we thought it would be useful to summarize the main ones.
In line with the earlier investigations summarized in our backgrounder, the more recent reviews find that the allegations made about the "climategate" stolen e-mails affair or errors in volume II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) are either baseless or have no bearing on the case for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas pollution.
Yesterday I attended a government briefing on the release of Ontario's long-term energy plan. I walked away pleased that the government was staying the course on developing a green and reliable electricity system that Ontarians can be proud of. This government has been criticized for recent increases to electricity bills, and it would have been easy to back down from their plans and instead move forward with a cheaper, dirtier plan — but they did not, and for this they should be commended.
In a drastic move to contain an on-going and unstoppable bitumen blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta, the province’s department of environment has ordered Canadian Natural Resource Ltd. to drain two thirds of a 53-hectare lake. According to CNRL, some of the removed water will be stored in the remaining one third of the lake, with the rest piped to a nearby pit and wetland.
In working on Pembina's recent Facing the Climate Challenge fact sheet on climate science, I had a chance to wade into the literature on sea level rise (no pun intended). It's a rapidly-evolving area of research as scientists' understanding of how ice sheets melt and move ("ice sheet dynamics") is growing every day.
Are the oilsands prepared for a worst-case scenario? Research assignment turns into wild goose chase
I recently went looking to see what kinds of plans were in place in case of an emergency involving 840 million cubic metres (equivalent to 330,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) of toxic liquid tailings waste deposited by oil sands mines north of Fort McMurray . The problem is, instead of finding what I was looking for, I was sent on a wild goose chase, leading me to wonder: Does anyone know what happens if something goes wrong?
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