Environment: Current Problems

AB


November 3, 2017


Climate Change

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Envronment must include Indigenous views

Assembly of First Nations – First Nations must be full participants in all meetings of Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to ensure their voices are heard in environmental and climate change solutions.

“Reconciliation has to include respect for our Elder’s traditional knowledge and our understanding of the lands and waters, the animals and plant life. We have a central role to play in lawmaking in this area, and we have responsibilities to safeguard our traditional territories and our people. We hold valuable knowledge that can help everyone in maintaining a healthy environment for all our children.” The AFN has created the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment (ACCAE) and is currently establishing a network of climate coordinators across Canada. The Assembly is also working with First Nations Elders on the development of an Indigenous Knowledge policy that would support federal efforts to better respond to the impacts of climate change and other environment issues.

In his presentation to the CCME, the National Chief advanced three points:

  • Establish “regional tables” between First Nations and provinces and territories to ensure First Nation participation within the different regions;
  • First Nations’ law must also be accommodated and recognized, in addition to common law and civil law, when dealing with environment and climate change regulation and management as a way to express and share First Nations’ traditional knowledge and responsibilities to safe guard the lands, wildlife, waters, and resources;
  • First Nations must be involved as key players in the emerging economic industry for clean energy, adaptation, and mitigation.

December 1, 2018


Environmental Impacts

Failure to protect Woodland Cariboo

Government of Canada – “Progress Report on Steps Taken to Protect Critical Habitat for the Woodland Caribou” indicates little progress is being made toward conservation. Meanwhile, provinces continue to issue permits for energy and forestry developments that do not comply with Species At Risk Act (SARA) , placing caribou at even greater risk. (David Suzuki Foundation)

Canada’s Species at Risk Act requires provinces to create plans to ensure at least 65 per cent of caribou habitat is protected and restored to help them survive.

This report notes that there continue to be gaps in comprehensive protection for boreal caribou critical habitat throughout the boreal caribou range… Most importantly, the development of regionally-specific range plans through meaningful partnership with Indigenous Peoples and broad engagement with multi-stakeholder groups, and their implementation, including through effective laws, regulations and policies, are central to achieving this outcome.
https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/critical-habitat-reports/woodland-caribou-boreal-population-protected-2019.html


March 26, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

The AFN, based on direction from the Chiefs-in-Assembly, intervened in this case, as well as court cases in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, arguing the Government of Canada has a direct legal obligation to recognize Aboriginal and Treaty rights in any legislative efforts to address climate change.


March 25, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Supreme Court finds that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 is constitutional.


March 25, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Westaway Law Group – The majority judges noted that climate change “has had particularly serious effects on Indigenous peoples, threatening the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to sustain themselves and maintain their traditional ways of life.” [para 11] They also acknowledged that, “the effects of climate change are and will continue to be experienced across Canada, with heightened impacts in the Canadian Arctic, coastal regions and Indigenous territories.” [para 12] These are important acknowledgements on the part of the Court, and no doubt had some impact on their assessment that the matters addressed in the GGPPA are matters of national concern.

Although the Court did not specifically make reference to s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as noted, the result is consistent with the evidence and arguments put forward on behalf of First Nation interveners.


October 20, 2020


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Toronto Star – The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) reserved judgement on whether the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 (GGPPA) is constitutional following hearings on September 22 and 23 with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), along with the Anishinabek Nation (AN), granted intervener status.

The GGPPA sets minimum standards for carbon pricing on provinces that have not implemented an equivalent provincial program. The provinces argued that they should have control of greenhouse gas (GHG) policies while environmental advocates and other interveners asked the court to recognize the necessity of a national response to climate change.

“The UCCMM intervened in this case because climate change disproportionately affects First Nation communities, our traditional way of life and our ability to assert and exercise jurisdiction in relation to environmental issues that directly impact their lands and their people,” said Patsy Corbiere, UCCMM Tribal Chair. “As stewards of the largest freshwater island in the world we are ensuring that the courts take into account the Anishinabek perspective when determining if climate change is a matter of national concern. As the quality and quantity of our natural resources and medicines continue to diminish with the effects of climate change, it is vital that our voices be heard and our rights be respected.”

In the current appeal to SCC, the AN and UCCMM urged the court to “adopt an approach to the issues in this case which allows jurisdictional space for all levels of government: federal, provincial and Indigenous, in regulation of critical environmental matters.” Patricia Lawrence from Westaway Law Group, appearing on behalf of the AN and UCCMM, argued that “First Nations should not be left without effective redress as a result of federal-provincial jurisdictional disputes.

The Crown must be held accountable for the protection and preservation of the aboriginal and treaty rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. If the provinces are unable to effectively protect these rights, the federal government must be permitted to step in and enact legislation,” said Chief Corbiere.


January 31, 2019


Environmental Impacts

Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) – Supreme Court of Canada decision 2019 SCC 5 ruled in favour of the AER and Orphan Well Association’s (OWA’s) appeal of the Redwater decision. From the May 2016 Redwater decision until January 30, 2019, receivers and trustees involved in 28 insolvencies renounced their interest in more than 10 000 AER-licensed sites (wells, facilities, and pipelines) with deemed liabilities of almost $335 million. In that same period, the OWA’s inventory of wells increased more than 300 per cent from 768 to 3100.

We recognize that funds are limited in many insolvency cases and that there may not be enough to fully address all end-of-life obligations, which reinforces the need for further changes. To address this, we are currently working on an improved liability management framework that we believe will strengthen our existing system.


December 30, 2018


Environmental Impacts

Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Macleans -Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act: requires owners of contaminated land – including oil and gas sites – seeking remediation certificates to report “new information” as well as meet specific timelines and instructions to remediate land and prevent future adverse effects.


July 4, 2017


Environmental Impacts

Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) – The May 19, 2016, decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in the matter of Redwater Energy Corp. allows receivers and trustees to disclaim Alberta Energy Regulator licensed assets and avoid their abandonment and reclamation obligations. Disclaiming unprofitable sites allows a company to reap the benefits of producing Alberta’s natural resources while avoiding the costs to repair the land, permanently impacting the environment, the economy, and the safety of Albertans.

The majority decision of the Court of Appeal of Alberta upheld this decision. In the 13 months since the decision, about 1 000 AER-licensed sites have been disclaimed with estimated liabilities of more than $56 million, and the Orphan Well Association’s inventory has more than doubled from almost 1 200 to more than 3 200. The decision has resulted in an unacceptable risk to Albertans, presents an environmental risk across Canada and all industry sectors, and undermines the foundation with which oil and gas licenses are issued.
The Court of Appeal decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court.


June 5, 2020


Environmental Impacts

Suspension of Environmental Monitoring in Oil Sands

Three First Nations in northeast Alberta – Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation – have jointly filed an appeal related to recent Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) decisions to suspend key aspects of environmental monitoring in the oil sands. The First Nations were not consulted on decisions that clearly impact Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) ability to identify and mitigate these impacts in traditional territories.

These suspensions affect water, air, wildlife, and groundwater monitoring, including a joint air monitoring program with the Fort McKay First Nation, a community surrounded by oil sands and vulnerable to air quality impacts. Meanwhile, production continues with no clear oversight into the impacts on health and the environment or end date established for many suspensions.

“A significant part of our concern is the lack of due process. Industry should not be able to petition its own regulator to relax approval conditions with virtually no oversight. This industry needs to maintain its pursuit of ethical oil. This is not how you do it,” stated Archie Waquan, Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation “The decisions to suspend environmental monitoring were made unilaterally. We were not notified—in fact, we would have had no idea this had occurred if it had not been revealed in the press,” stated Mel Grandjamb, Chief of Fort McKay First Nation. Consultation would have enabled us to inform the regulator how its monitoring decisions impact our Nations. Both we and the industry would have been better served by the clarity that consultation would have contributed to these decisions.”

In the days leading up to these decisions, our representatives sat with AER, government and industry representatives to provide oversight to environmental monitoring programs under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. The fact AER did not mention once it was considering suspending monitoring, some of which may overlap with program work, is very disappointing. This neglect does not encourage reconciliation.
In March, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers requested that the federal government relax several regulatory and policy activities, including an indefinite suspension of all consultation with industry to develop new environmental policies. At the same time, industry has lobbied the provincial government to resume consultation with Indigenous communities to advance projects despite the closure of our communities due to COVID-19 pandemic responses.


April 6, 2020


Environmental Impacts

Suspension of Environmental Monitoring in Oil Sands

Canadian Manufacturing – The Alberta Government has suspended all environmental reporting requirements for industry under emergency powers the province has enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move effectively suspends environmental regulation in the province. Later, on May 6, 2020, the Alberta Energy Regulator suspended a wide array of environmental monitoring requirements for oil sands companies over public-health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences.The regulator says some programs are to resume by the end of September, but most have no restart date.

The latest exemptions specifically relieve operators of the following:

  • Monitoring most ground and surface water, unless it enters the environment
  • almost all wildlife and bird monitoring is suspended
  • Air-quality programs, including one for the First Nations community of Fort McKay, have been reduced, along with many other conditions of the companies’ licences
  • Testing for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has been suspended
  • Wetlands monitoring and research is gone until further notice
  • Water that escapes from storm ponds no longer must be tested

December 14, 2021


Environmental Impacts

Tailings Pond release in Athabaska River

Fort McMurray Today – First Nation, Métis leaders raise concerns about plans to release treated tailings into Athabasca River. The federal government is developing protocols for when treated tailings water can be released into the Athabasca River. A first draft is scheduled to be finished by 2024 and a final draft will be published in 2025.

But the leaders of First Nation and Métis communities in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan, which are along the Athabasca River, say consultation has been limited. Many questions are about what this monitoring and treatment process will look like and any community impacts. “In order for us to accept any of this we have to see what they’re doing. We have to be working together at it. We want to be part of it. We already raised our concerns,” said Chief Peter Powder of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) near Fort Chipewyan.

“We have to be 100 per cent sure that it’s not going to be toxic. The decisions we make today is going to affect our future generations,” he said. “When the mines close and industry leaves, our kids and their kids will live in the consequences of the decisions made today.”

Tailings are leftovers from the process separating oil from sand and clay. More than 1.4 trillion litres of tailings are kept in ponds that cover a combined area of 220 square-kilometres. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) requires oil companies to have a tailings management plan. Companies must explain how they will restore the land within 10 years of the mine closing.

A spokesperson with Environment and Climate Change Canada said in an email that any decisions on releasing treated tailings will be based on “the best available science and Indigenous knowledge.” Industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) insist any treated tailings water released into the Athabasca River “will meet release criteria set to protect the environment and human health.”
But First Nation and Métis leaders are skeptical about how this process is unfolding. Ron Quintal, president of Fort McKay Métis Nation, said impacted Indigenous communities must have a leadership role in developing and implementing any policies after thorough consultation.

“The Indigenous people of this region are the land-users, and you look at destruction of land and release of water back into the environment it’s obviously something of great concern to us,” he said. “The federal government, while they’re pushing this initiative forward, need to take a very long look at this in terms of not just Indigenous consultation, but Indigenous buy-in.

“We strongly support the cleaning of tailings ponds, but we don’t want the clean-up of tailings ponds to mean that we are creating environmental impacts in the Athabasca River and downstream,” said Bori Arrobo, director of sustainability with the Fort McKay First Nation. “We don’t want to swap one environmental liability with another one.”