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Canada: Water pollution law meant to assist oilsands

Oil Sands Discovery Centre 1991

Oil Sands Discovery Centre 1991 (Photo credit: Gord McKenna)

OTTAWA — New laws offering the government more tools to “authorize” water pollution appear to be designed to remove obstacles for expansion of Canada’s oilpatch, says a Liberal MP from Montreal who spearheaded a parliamentary investigation into the environmental footprint of the oilsands.

“I just found it curious that they’re trying to hide their motive,” said Francis Scarpaleggia, the Liberal water critic. “This is all being done for the oilsands. It’s not being done for the pulp and paper industry. They have their house in order.”

Scarpaleggia made the comments in response to recent Postmedia News reports about a letter signed by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield that explained the government was amending the Canada’s Fisheries Act, previously considered to be the country’s strongest environmental protection law, in order to make it easier to “authorize” water pollution.

Scarpaleggia said that some mining companies are using existing provisions of legislation that allow the federal government to authorize them to dump tailings waste into lakes or other bodies of water with fish, when they take other steps to mitigate the damage.

But he said that the problem is more complicated to solve for oilsands companies following research led by University of Alberta scientist, David Schindler, who found that air pollution from oilsands operations were polluting water in a peer-reviewed study that examined snow samples.

The new environmental legislation adopted this year allows the environment minister to introduce new regulations to authorize pollution and enter into agreements with provincial governments to monitor bodies of water without current levels of federal oversight. Other changes weaken some existing protection of habitat for endangered species, while restricting the ability of some Canadians to participate in environmental reviews of proposed projects.

Scarpaleggia also questioned whether the government could adequately monitor impacts of air pollution on water after millions of dollars worth of cuts to scientific monitoring and research, including the dismantling a unit of smokestack pollution specialists with expertise in measuring harmful emissions.

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Original source article: Water pollution law meant to assist oilsands: Liberal MP


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