Browsing the archives for the Rationale tag.

MNR Proposal Abdicates Responsibility for SAR

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)’s current regime for managing approvals for permits affecting Species-At-Risk (SAR) is already flawed and the proposed changes described in the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBBR 011-7696). make the situation worse – not better.

The current regime is based on providing a process for approving an activity that might harm SAR, or SAR habitat, that is based on an emphasis that mitigates impacts.

  • This is based on a false presumption that mitigation is always possible.
  • Most permit applications are granted if the mitigation for the SAR in question is relocated to a different ecosystem (i.e. moved, transplanted, or seeds replanted).

The existing Approvals process completely ignores the ecosystem implications of a permit by focusing too narrowly on the SAR in question and not on its relationship to the ecosystem it resides in and contributes to.

No vegetation or wildlife (or humans) exist in isolation of other living things.  Each has an impact on the other and within a natural ecosystem, these impacts are beneficial, balanced, and necessary for the whole – otherwise the ecosystem would be different.  Ecosystem change is usually caused by a dis-balance caused by an external event such as human activity, disease, fire, flood, or invasive species.

Instead of (a) requiring a burden of proof that mitigation is possible and (b) ensuring that broader ecosystem effects are included in this process, this proposal makes matters worse by continuing the MNR’s policy of ecosystem piecemealing via regulation.

The breadth of exemptions in the proposal is unreasonably broad because it includes all already approved or planned activities that might damage habitat.

  1. Encompassing all activities is unreasonable in scope.
  2. The proposal does not take into account the fact that approvals (such as a PTTW or CoA) have been granted in the past by agencies without regard to impact on SAR.  These agencies granted their approvals under the expectation that the MNR would fulfill any SAR-related approvals. If the MNR abdicates responsibility, then there is no consideration for SAR under any prior approval granted by any provincial ministry.
  3. The definition is so vague as to allow virtually any activity to quality – for example proposed plans of subdivision approval that have not yet been approved under the Planning Act.  This would remove what little protection exists for all 22 SAR documented in the South March Highlands.

The MNR’s rationale for grandfathering so many activities & exemptions is so dubious as to completely lack credibility.  How will the grandfathering and creation of so many exempt activities that damage habitat contribute to the overall benefit of SAR?

While it is apparent that the MNR seeks to shrink its job in the face of insufficient funding by McGuinty, the creation of so many exemptions will create an unsustainable workload for the MNR to manage the enforcement of compliance with.  Any alleged violation would require considerably further substantiation and validation of prior approvals by other agencies.  In my view, not performing such validation would constitute environmental negligence on the part of the MNR.

The proposed exemptions would also create two classes of SAR (existing and new) which has no reasonable basis in the Crown’s primary obligation to protect all SAR.  This also creates a legal liability for the province in view of recent Federal Court ruling on the fiduciary obligation of the Crown to provide such protection.  Protection of critical habitat is a duty – not a government discretion.

The Federal Court ruling sets a precedent that all levels of government must follow.  In Ontario, this duty is also enshrined in the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The proposed changes amount to abdication, not modernization, and should be opposed.   The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, Carolinian Canada CoalitionOntario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation have already expressed their opposition to this.

If you also oppose this, please make an individual posting to the EBBR.  Type in the 011-7696 Registry Number in the search box.  Search for and select the proposed change to bring up a description of it.  From there it takes less than 5 minutes to click on the Submit Comment button on the right side of the screen and to fill out the form or to cut and paste your comment.

Feel free to use any or all of the above via cut-and-paste if you wish.

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Probable Lost Cause

Civil Rights

Random Breath Testing

The Harper government is determined to erode the Charter of Rights protection against unreasonable search.

Their latest assault is found in the discussion paper on drunk driving legislation. 

While many of the proposed changes in the discussion paper are long-overdue, the Dept of Justice is also proposing that police be allowed to search drivers for intoxication at random and without reasonable cause.

Their reasoning for this is that since Australia, New Zealand, and 22 European countries violate their citizen’s right to be protected against unreasonable search, so should Canada.

By that rationale we should also eat shit because a million flys can’t be wrong!

Random vs RIDE

Random breath testing (RBT) is different than the Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) program that we are all familiar with

In the RIDE program, police stop all cars at a particular checkpoint but only administer breath tests if they subsequently have reasonable cause to do so.  This screeening is consistent with our Charter Rights and has proven to be effective in cutting down on drunk driving.

However, the government is now proposing to search drivers for intoxication without reasonable cause.

The discussion paper suggests that RBT is necessary because relying on the judgement of police is a weakness in the current system of detecting drunk drivers. 

However, if we cannot rely on the good judgement of police today, will we abandon jury trials tomorrow because we cannot rely on the good judgement of jurors?  What about the reliance on the good judgement of judges? 

In fact our entire legal system rests on good judgement in combination with Charter Rights – and that is a good thing.

The Charter recognizes that our Rights need to be balanced against the common good.  Our rights can be overridden if there is a compelling reason to do so.

However, the discussion paper does not meet the burden of proof that there is an overriding reason to violate the Charter right.  There is no evidence that suggests that:

  • a system of random checks is more effective than the current method whereby a police request a breath test on the basis of reasonable cause.  The statistics cited in the annex of the report do not prove that an alternative to RBT cannot obtain the same result as those claimed for RBT, or that a combination of measures (such as reducing allowable alcohol blood levels, more frequent use of RIDE, etc) cannot obtain the same results as RBT. 
  • random breath tests will be a deterrent to drunk drivers. 

Instead of RBT, a better deterrent would be to substantially increase the fines for a first offence and the penalties for subsequent offences beyond the amount proposed in the discussion paper. 

To quote an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Slippery Slope

First the airports and now our cars.  Where will this end? Will our homes be next?

If we allow police to search us without reasonable cause, they can enter our homes on a fishing expedition at any time just to check that we are not law-breakers.

The argument that “if you are a law-abiding citizen you have nothing to fear” assumes that miscarriage of justice never happens.  Tell that to Maher Arar, or the many innocent people incarcerated in Canadian jails because of a mistake / incompetence / or malfeasence by police.

Our right to privacy is fundamental.  Please tell the government so by emailing the Justice Department at ID-consultation-FA@justice.gc.ca and objecting to random breath testing.

You have until April 30, 2010 to do so.  After that point, the consultation period ends and so will your right to privacy.

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Ontario’s MicroGeneration Feed-Tarriff

Climate Change

FIT

A relatively unnoticed part of the McGuinty government’s Green Energy Act is the plan to establish a preferential feed-in tarriff (FIT) for renewable energy generation.  The FIT program provides incentives for homeowners to install rooftop solar and other renewable energy generation equipment (windmills, etc.). 

Homeowners who produce energy can tie into the Ontario electrical grid and sell their power at rates up to 10x more than their cost of electricity from the grid!  The rate for rooftop solar (80.2 cents) is double the previous fixed rate for purchasing power from home solar systems and 10x the average rate for electricity  during daylight hours (8 cents).  The approval process is also simplified and streamlined for home and small-business-scale systems that are less than 10 kW.

The rationale for the program is that it is cheaper to encourage consumers to install their own micro-generation capability than to spend hundreds of billions replacing the coal-fired generation stations that currently produce 20% of Ontario’s power (the current installed capacity at Ontario’s four coal-fired generating stations is 6,434 MW and this is used 15 – 30% of the time depending on the availability of other non-coal generating stations).

Each home that micro-generates its own power displaces demand for centrally-produced power.  Solar generation is especially valuable as an energy source because it produces power during peak periods of energy demand as shown below.

 Ontario Hourly Demand

Economics

The FIT price schedule is still being fine tuned pending final approval of the Green legislation.  The average price for most non-solar energy production is 13.5 cents per kWh.  Solar production is clearly favoured and ranges from 44 – 80 cents per kWh.

Suppose the average home installs a 0.32 kWh rooftop system costing approximately $4000. Typical PV Solar panels have a life expectancy of 20 – 25 years. These systems are virtually maintenance free and, because your extra power goes into the grid, you don’t need to mess around with batteries.  The expected efficiency of a grid-attached PV Solar micro-generation system is about 95% since the primary loss is only when the DC output is converted to AC by your onsite inverter.

According to Natural Resources Canada, Stittsville has a PV potential of 1201 kWh / 1000 kW installed generation.  So a 0.32 kW system x 1201 hrs = 384 kWh per year x .95% efficiency = $365 kWh x $0.802 = $293 per year.  A system costing $4K will pay back in just under 14 years. A good guide to calculating the economics of PV Solar in Canada can be found in the Photovoltaic Buyer’s Guide.

Under the FIT program, you get the benefit of this production even if you consume more energy than you produce. When a FIT micro-generation system is installed, your local power company will install a meter that measures it’s output and you will be give a credit for the energy produced based on FIT pricing.  Your electrical bill will reflect the cost of your power consumed from the grid (at an average of 8 cents during peak period) minus the credit for your power produced to the grid (at a rate of 80 cents during peak period).

If you plan on selling your house within the 15 year payback period, your buyer will benefit from the micro-generation and you should be able to negotiate that value into your resale price for your home. 

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GHG Reduction Leadership or BullShip?

Climate Change

USA

For those of us who can recall JFK, Obama certainly echos that spirit of change and hope.

If you ever wondered what JFK might have said about climate change, check out Greenpeace’s creative video rendition John F. Kennedy’s famous speech on climate change. Sadly it never happened.

By comparision, in these videos, Obama sounds considerably less visonary by comparison but certainly can be more specific.

Canada

Meanwhile this video shows our Canadian leaders spend more time attacking each other on this issue than actually attacking the real issues!  

Meanwhile, even though we can clearly do more, our [former] government is busy taking a so-called balanced approach that avoids concrete targets and gives the illusion of progress on the issue.

Research by both the Pembina Institute and the C. D. Howe Institute confirm that the Harper government’s policies won’t result in any GHG reductions by even 2020.   That’s because the current federal climate-change plan focuses on emission-intensity reductions—rather than on cutting overall emissions.  

According to Canada’s lead scientist to the UN’s blue ribbon panel on climate change, Andrew Weaver, “From the information provided in the federal plan, we learn that by 2020 the oil sands sector will be required to reduce its emissions intensity by 23%.  But oil sands production is also expected to quadruple by 2020.”   The net effect, according to Weaver, would be a tripling of GHG emissions from the oil sands by 2020. [Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World published by Viking Canada]

So why is the Canadian government so ineffective on climate change?

GHG vs GDP

Harper’s behaviour is entirely based on a belief that progress on GHG reductions is at odds with economic growth.  In reaching this point of view, it has been reported that Harper met once with leading environmentalist David Suzuki, zero times with accredited Canadian scientific experts on climate change, and over 40 times with representatives from the Alberta oil industry.

However, the point of view that GHG reduction equals GDP reduction is not a uniquely Alberta perspective. This is based on data that clearly shows that increasing GHG emissions have historically accompanied GDP growth.  It is also based on data that shows that the countries who have grown their economies the most also tend to be the countries with the highest per-capita GHG emissions.

Heck, that is how we got into this mess in the first place. So if increased GHG emissions is the price of increased GDP, then it seems logical that reduced GHG emissions must cause reduced GDP growth.

But what may be true in one direction is not always true when going in the opposite direction.  E.G. Just because my feet get wet when it rains doesn’t mean that drying my feet will cause it to stop raining.

Decoupling GHG from GDP
When applied to the question of GHG-GDP, several countries (India, China, Sweden, Denmark, etc.) have in fact proved this reverse logic to be false.  This is known as “decoupling” GDP growth from GHG emissions and many countries have shown that they can take aggressive action on GHG reductions without impairing GDP growth.

For example, according to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, illustrated below, GDP growth has been achieved while simultaneously making progress against Kyoto commitments:

Denmark Decouples GDP 

A recent study in New Zealand also found that relative de-coupling (based on GHG / GDP intensity) can readily be achieved as a first step to absolute de-coupling.   “Relative decoupling is useful to highlight the trends in CO2 emissions relative to GDP.  Relative decoupling may mean a drop in emissions relative to GDP but that drop may still be insufficient to minimise climate change impacts.”

So in other words, the fact that you can reduce your GHG intensity as GDP grows is proof that GHG can be de-coupled from GDP.  The report presents evidence that the USA, the EU, and Japan have already achieved relative decoupling.

The report also states that a country cannot rely solely on GHG intensity metrics to lead you to overall declines in emissions.  The report concludes that absolute de-coupling is possible and must be the goal of national policies:  “Decoupling has shown that it is essential to reduce absolute CO2 emissions, i.e. to achieve absolute decoupling.”

So it is time to do away with the fear that our economy will suffer from Kyoto.  Our leaders also need to dispose of false intensity-based targets and adopt absolute GHG reduction targets.

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