In the News
Links to items on other sites of interest to Common Sense Canadian readers, writers, and editors.
Read this story from The New York Times on the latest mishap at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, which has remained in precarious condition, continuing to emit radioactive waste, ever since it was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami over 2 years ago. (April 10, 2013)
TOKYO — More than two years after multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a series of recent mishaps — including a blackout set off by a dead rat and the discovery of leaks of thousands of gallons of radioactive water — have underscored just how vulnerable the plant remains.
Increasingly, experts are arguing that the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, cannot be trusted to lead what is expected to be decades of cleanup and the decommissioning of the plant’s reactors without putting the public, and the environment, at risk.
At the same time, the country’s new nuclear regulator remains woefully understaffed. It announced Wednesday that it would send a ninth official to the site — to monitor the work of about 3,000 laborers.
“The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident,” Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said at a news conference. “We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.”
The biggest scare at the plant in recent days has been the discovery that at least three of seven underground storage pools are seeping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the soil. On Wednesday, Tepco acknowledged that the lack of adequate storage space for contaminated water had become a “crisis,” and said it would begin emptying the pools. But the company said that the leaks will continue over the several weeks that it will likely take to transfer the water to other containers.
Plant workers dug these underground ponds about six months ago to store the ever-growing amount of contaminated water at the plant. There is about 400 tons daily from two sources: runoff from a makeshift cooling system rigged together after the site’s regular cooling equipment was knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and a steady stream of groundwater seeping into damaged reactors.
Tepco stores more than a quarter-million tons of radioactive water at the site and says the amount could double within three years.
But as outside experts have discovered with horror, the company had lined the pits for the underground pools with only two layers of plastic each 1.5 millimeters thick, and a third, clay-based layer just 6.5 millimeters thick. And because the pools require many sheets hemmed together, leaks could be springing at the seams, Tepco has said.
“No wonder the water is leaking,” said Hideo Komine, a professor in civil engineering at Ibaraki University, just south of Fukushima. He said that the outer protective lining should have been hundreds of times thicker.
Tepco’s president, Naomi Hirose, traveled to Fukushima on Wednesday to apologize for the leaks, which he said had caused further distress to local residents. About 160,000 fled their homes in the wake of the disaster, and large areas around the plant remain off-limits.
Mr. Hirose said that Tepco would stop using the underground pits, and would pump the water out into more aboveground tanks. But Tepco says it is likely to take until at least the end of May to empty the pools. Mr. Hirose said that he did not think any water would reach the Pacific Ocean, because the pools lie at least half a mile inland.
“We’re going to get the water out of these underground pits and into tanks as soon as we can,” he said. “We’re aware that this is a crisis that we must attend to with urgency.”
But Muneo Morokuzu, a nuclear safety expert at the Tokyo University Graduate School of Public Policy, said that the plant required a more permanent solution that would reduce the flood of contaminated water into the plant in the first place, and that Tepco was simply unable to manage the situation. “It’s become obvious that Tepco is not at all capable of leading the cleanup,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the expertise, and because Fukushima Daiichi is never going to generate electricity again, every yen it spends on the decommissioning is thrown away.”
“That creates an incentive to cut corners, which is very dangerous,” he said. “The government needs to step in, take charge and assemble experts and technology from around the world to handle the decommissioning instead.”
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/world/asia/fukushima-nuclear-plant-is-still-unstable-japanese-official-says.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&%20http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/17034&
Check out this blog from Greenpeace, providing some post-speech analysis from Alberta Premier Alison Redford's recent lobbying in Washington for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal. (April 10, 2013)
Yesterday Alberta Premier Alison Redford was in Washington to lobby for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. While in Washington, she gave a speech at the Brookings Institute. We decided to fact check some of her comments. Here’s the Premier's top 10 lies, mistruths and deceptions.
“The truth is that Alberta is home to some of the most environmentally friendly, progressive legislation in the world.”
Alberta has been widely criticized for their wide lack of environmental protection. Corporate Knights, ranked Alberta dead last in it’s recent provincial environmental stewardship report card.
The David Suzuki Foundation also ranked Alberta last when it comes to climate policy.
Finally having legislation is good but if you don’t enforce it, it doesn’t matter much (like with respect to toxic tailings ponds). Adding insult to injury, the guy the Alberta government just put in charge of environmental enforcement is Gerry Protti, founding President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (conflict of interest much?).
“Since 1990, Alberta’s energy industry has reduced greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of oil produced by an average of 29 percent. Some facilities have achieved reductions as high as 50 percent.”
While the above statement is almost true (latest figure is 26% between 1990 and 2010) what the Premier knows and didn’t tell her U.S. audience is that overall emissions in Alberta have sky rocketed and will increase by over 500% from 1990 – 2020. Furthermore, while the tar sands industry did reduce its overall greenhouse gas intensity by 29 per cent from 1990 to 2009, more recently the trend for intensity reductions plateaued and then reversed. Between 2009 and 2010, the emissions intensity of the tar sands rose two per cent and this trend is likely to continue (See page 5 & Figure 3 of this report).
“We are bringing all our emissions down as far as possible.”
The Alberta government admits that it isn’t even meeting it’s own emission reduction target, a target which is well below scientifically based international standards. In fact Alberta is not even close to meeting it.
The target is 50 MT reduction per year below business as usual (BAU) by 2020.
Over the past 6-years Alberta has reduced emissions by an average of 5 megatonnes (MT) per year below BAU. By 2020, annual reductions are expected to be 14 MT per year below BAU.
Right now Alberta has a 45 MT gap per year below BAU, by 2020 they will still have a 36 MT gap from THEIR OWN TARGET.
In addition to not meeting their own target overall emissions in Alberta are expected just to go up. The tar sands are the largest and fastest growing source of emissions in Canada. As Alberta adds more and more projects, overall emissions from the tar sands are projected to double between 2010 and 2020.
If Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world.
“We are also pushing ahead with plans to capture and store as much of our carbon as possible.”
Alberta’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) plans have been a major boondoggle as project after project has been cancelled.
Three companies (TransAlta Corp., Enbridge Inc. and Capital Power Corp.) cancelled their $1.4-billion CCS efforts in April 2012.
The Alberta government also cancelled its $285-million funding of the CCS project associated with the proposed Swan Hills Synfuels LP synthetic gas plant north of Edmonton in February of this year.
CCS is more of a pipe dream then a reality and the fact that the Alberta still trumpets it shows just how weak the Province is on the climate front.
“We’ve put a price on carbon. Who else in North America has done that?”
BC has put a price on carbon (a much larger one that Alberta). Quebec has put a price on carbon. California and the U.S. Northeast have done it as well.
Yes Alberta put a price on carbon, and they were the first in North America, but Alberta’s carbon tax has so many holes you can build a tar sands industry through it.
First, the true test of a carbon tax is does it actually help to reduce emissions. In Alberta emissions have gone only up and are expected to more than double over the next decade.
Second, Alberta’s tax isn’t on all emissions (in contrast, BC’s carbon tax covers all emissions from fuel combustion) but instead is only on emissions intensity above a certain level. The average cost (per tonne) to companies to meet emissions targets in Alberta equates not to $15 but a paltry $1.80. That’s a long way from BC’s $30 per tonne on all emissions.
Even Alberta’s new 40/40 proposal would only net an average cost (per tonne) to companies to meet emissions targets of $16, still well below BC and far less than countries like Norway.
Read more: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/Blog/fact-checking-premier-redfords-speech-in-wash/blog/44695/
Read this editorial from The Globe and Mail on the Harper Government's recent changes to the public commenting process for proposed pipeline projects, making it much more difficult for concerned citizens to register their comments with the National Energy Board. (April 10, 2013)
Environmental hearings for new or altered pipelines have always been messy affairs – until now. The Conservative government has created a new rule requiring those who simply wish to write letters to the National Energy Board to obtain the board’s approval in advance. Letter-writers have the right to write their letter if they can establish that they are directly affected by the pipeline in question. If they don’t have a direct interest, but have specialized knowledge, the board may agree to hear from them.
We understand the need to streamline environmental hearings, but it’s hard to accept that members of the general public who feel they have something to say need to prove their bona fides before sending in a letter. The board is being asked to use its time to read 10-page application forms full of detailed information, which may include curriculum vitae and references. This seems less like streamlining than a form of silencing.
And why the rush? Enbridge has applied to the National Energy Board to make changes to a 639-kilometre segment of its Line 9 pipeline through the most populous part of Canada, from southwestern Ontario through Toronto to Montreal. The application form for letter-writers and potential intervenors (who were, quite properly, screened in the past) became available on April 5, and the deadline for getting the applications in is April 19. Given the stakes, and the 15 months being allotted to the hearings, two weeks isn’t much time.
Several municipalities along the route have indicated they have environmental concerns about Enbridge’s proposed expansion of capacity, addition of heavy crude, and reversal of the pipe’s flow. Individual members of the general public may not have the technical knowledge that the experts have. They may repeat one another. But the purpose of the NEB, an independent federal agency, is to regulate pipelines and energy development in the public interest. A public-interest body that hears only from experts and the directly affected may lack some of the context for assessing the public interest. The CRTC, for one, is happy to receive letters from all Canadians.
Read more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/oil-pipelines-and-the-messy-democratic-process/article10959307/?cmpid=rss1
Listen to this informative program from CBC's The Current on pipeline politics and Alberta Premier Alison Redford's fourth trip to Washington, DC to lobby for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. (April 8, 2013)
Featuring Nathan Vanderklippe of The Globe and Mail, Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute and Michal Moore of the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy.
Read this story from The Alaska Highway News on one of the farming families in the path of the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River, named by the annual Outdoor Recreation Council as this year's "most endangered river". (April 9, 2013)
The Peace River is the most endangered river in B.C. and Site C’s potential approval in the next year or so is mainly to blame, according to the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C (ORC).
The group solicits reviews and nominations for B.C.’s most endangered rivers from 100,000 members across B.C. The news release declaring the Peace this year’s dubious winner sites widespread opposition, including unanimous First Nations disapproval, and an $8 billion total cost with no domestic need for the power the dam would generate.
“The reason the Peace is on the list is threefold,” said the organizations chair of rivers, Mark Angelo.
“One, the dam is going to have extensive impacts, there’s no question about that. It’s going to impact wintering animal habitats, sacred cultural sites, recreational values, class one agricultural land.
“Secondly, we got so much feedback – nominations on the Peace literally dominated the feedback this year. Clearly it’s evident there is a lot of opposition by those closest to the river who would be the most affected. Aboriginal communities are very much set against the project. That was clearly evident in the responses we got.
“Thirdly if you look at the most recent BC Hydro energy forecast, we are in a surplus position in this province. BC Hydro is predicting a surplus of at least several years, if not more. The need for the dam for domestic power has vanished. So I think if you look at the BC Hydro energy forecast, the impacts of the dam, the rampant opposition and the fact that we received a huge number of responses from your region, clearly the Peace deserves to be in the number one position.”
However, Dave Conway, a spokesperson for BC Hydro, said that the demand for electricity will go up over the next few decades.
“Site C is required to help meet the future electricity needs of the province,” he said.
“BC Hydro’s current forecast shows electricity demand increasing by approximately 40 per cent in the next 20 years, driven by a projected population increase of more than one million residents and economic expansion. Subject to approvals, Site C would be a source of clean, reliable and cost-effective electricity for more than 100 years.”
Angelo said the need for the energy that was given years ago as justification for the project has disappeared.
“Several years ago we were being told we clearly needed Site C for domestic power. If you look at BC Hydro’s forecast, just in 2013 we’re talking about 5,200 kilowatt hours of surplus. If you look at 2015 you’re talking about a surplus 5,500 kilowatt hours. We’re in a surplus for quite a while to come so there’s clearly no need for the Site C dam. If you look at how people justified the dam several years ago, those needs simply are not there.”
BC Hydro’s argument that the power is required for future liquid natural gas projects is unfounded, Angelo added.
“LNG is still very uncertain,” he said. “A lot of (the interest) is based on current premiums and there’s pressure from a lot of the Asian markets to lower premiums substantially. So there may not be as much value in LNG in five years as there is currently.”
Andrea Morison, spokesperson for the Peace Valley Environment Association, agreed. She said BC Hydro customers and taxpayer should not be on the hook just for over $8 billion to subsidize the LNG industry – let alone, Morison added, the fact that dam projects often go significantly over budget.
“Christy Clark – about a year ago – said it would take 100 per cent of Site C to power just one proposed LNG plant and just a couple weeks ago she stated point blank she’s in favour of Site C because we need it for LNG,” Morison said.
“That tells you right there we need it to support the LNG industry, but there’s no statement going along with that saying the industry is going to pay for the dam. It’s a Crown corporation, so the ratepayers are going to pay for it.”
She added the ranking by the ORC shows people in the province really care about the issue.
The period for submission of written commentary on the project closed April 4. A joint review panel of three people is expected to be appointed this summer by the federal and provincial governments.
Ken Boon, who lives on property in the valley that would be lost to the proposed flood area of the reservoir created by the dam, said he has made submissions to the ORC in previous years as well as this year.
“The kinds of things we talk about are the vast cost of it, the burden it would be to the ratepayers of B.C. and basically the environmental train wreck it would be,” Boon said.
Read more: http://www.alaskahighwaynews.ca/article/20130409/FORTSTJOHN0101/130409935/-1/fortstjohn/in-the-danger-zone
Read this story from Metro News on the Harper Government's much ballyhooed witch hunt for environmental charities, allegedly "laundering" foreign money for their "radical" campaigns in Canada. One year and $5 million later, the team investigating charities has come up with just one bad egg. (March 30, 2013)
An $8-million pot of money included in last year’s federal budget to crack down on charities suspected of engaging in “excessive” political activities has so far resulted in only one having its charitable status revoked, out of nearly 900 that were audited.
Under the Canadian tax code, registered charities are permitted to devote a maximum of 10 per cent of their total resources to non-partisan political activities, defined as any type of call to political action.
The agency has already spent $5 million to educate charities and increase transparency and compliance around those limitations, and expects to spend the remaining $3 million in the coming year.
Environmental charities were widely reported to be the primary target of ramped up compliance measures after Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said environmental and other “radical groups” were trying to undermine the national economy by blocking pipeline and other fossil fuel projects.
But Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) spokesman Philippe Brideau said after roughly 880 audits in the last year, the only charity whose status was revoked for exceeding limits on political activity was Physicians for Global Survival, a group dedicated to the promotion of nuclear disarmament.
A CRA audit found the organization was using 26 per cent of its resources for political activities, including a letter-writing campaign urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper, party leaders and MPs to support an international treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Several high-profile B.C.-based charities, including the David Suzuki Foundation and ForestEthics, told Metro the CRA’s attention actually inspired them to become more politically active, because they realized they were not spending anywhere near the 10 per cent threshold.
ForestEthics split into two organizations after the March 2012 budget announcement, with a non-charitable branch dedicated solely to advocacy, while David Suzuki stepped down from the board of his own foundation so that he could publically denounce Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies.
“It wasn’t because there was any feeling like we were over that 10 per cent, I think it was actually that we wanted to do more than 10 per cent,” said Ben West, tar sands campaign director for the now one-year-old non-profit, ForestEthics Advocacy.
Read more: http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/613999/one-year-and-5-million-later-harpers-charity-crackdown-nets-just-one-bad-egg/
Read this column from TheTyee.ca on the effects of neoliberal ideology on public policy in BC. (April 3, 2013)
British Columbia's New Democrats will form government this spring if recent polling sticks. The May election is arriving amidst a crisis of the philosophy and policy-paradigm that has guided governance worldwide for the past 40 years: neoliberalism. Understanding neoliberalism's legacy, appeal, and current transformation -- both globally and in British Columbia -- can facilitate successful social democratic governance starting in May. Renewed social democracy in B.C. can yield ecological and social benefit in this region, but also serve as a model for other jurisdictions seeking alternatives to neoliberal orthodoxy. Political openings for progressives are afoot.
Neoliberalism in BC
Neoliberalism names ongoing efforts to reduce the state's social and environmental welfare role while expanding its function as a facilitator of profit accumulation. Classic neoliberal policies include deregulation, privatization, generalized tax cuts, the reduction of social spending, and trade liberalization. These policies unevenly benefit the economic elite, and have facilitated growing concentrations of wealth since becoming widespread in the 1980s.
One of Gordon Campbell's first acts of government in 2001 was a 25 per cent income tax cut for all British Columbians. Someone earning $20,000 per year saved a mere $236, while someone earning $80,000 pocketed a generous $1,947. Generalized tax cuts unevenly benefit upper-bracket earners. Moreover the $1.5 billion in lost yearly revenue has been primarily borne by middle and low-income earners who relied more on the government services that Campbell's Liberals cut to make up the shortfall (See Will McMartin's contributions to the book the Tyee published in 2005, Liberalized, and his various Tyee columns like this one.)
According to TD Economics, B.C. is now marked by the highest levels of income inequality in Canada and ranks first in terms of individuals living on low income. The BC Liberals are tops at base superlatives: Eleven years of (Neo)Liberal rule has made British Columbia "The Best Place on Earth" for the already prosperous.
Read more: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2013/04/03/BC-Neoliberalism/?utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=030413
Read this story from the Climate Desk on gases escaping from fracking operations, costing the US gas industry an estimated $1.5 billion a year, while adding to climate change. (April 5, 2013)
Of all the many and varied consequences of fracking (water contamination, injured workers, earthquakes, the list goes on) one of the least understood is so-called “fugitive” methane emissions. Methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, and it escapes into the atmosphere at every stage of production: at wells, in processing plants, and in pipes on its way to your house. According to a new study, it could become one of the worst climate impacts of the fracking boom—and yet, it’s one of the easiest to tackle right away. Best of all, fixing the leaks is good for the bottom line.
According to the World Resources Institute, natural gas producers allow $1.5 billion worth of methane to escape from their operations every year. That might sound like small change to an industry that drilled up some $66.5 billion worth of natural gas in 2012 alone, but it’s a big deal for the climate: While methane only makes up 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (20 percent of which comes from cow farts), it packs a global warming punch 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
“Those leaks are everywhere,” said WRI analyst James Bradbury, so fixing them would be “super low-hanging fruit.”
The problem, he says, is that right now those emissions aren’t directly regulated by the EPA. In President Obama’s first term, the EPA set new requirements for capturing other types of pollutants that escape from fracked wells, using technology that also, incidentally, limits methane. But without a cap on methane itself, WRI finds, the potent gas is free to escape at incredible rates, principally from leaky pipelines. The scale of the problem is hard to overstate: The Energy Department found that leaking methane could ultimately make natural gas—which purports to be a “clean” fossil fuel—even more damaging than coal, and an earlier WRI study found that fixing methane leaks would be the single biggest step the US could take toward meeting its long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals.
What’s more, the solution to the problem doesn’t rely on some kind futuristic, expensive technology: It’s literally a matter of patching up leaky pipes.
Read more: http://climatedesk.org/2013/04/frackers-are-losing-1-5-billion-yearly-to-leaks/
Read this opinion piece by blogger Laila Yuile, arguing against increased US coal exports through terminals on BC's coast. (April 7, 2013)
Occasionally, I can’t help but wonder how much the global economy takes advantage of British Columbia’s reputation for being easygoing and complacent.
Case in point is the recent application for Fraser Surrey Docks to develop a direct coal transfer facility. The idea of coal expansion has people up in arms — rightfully so — particularly south of the Fraser River and along the Sunshine Coast.
The heart of the controversy is centered on taking so-called “dirty” coal mined in Wyoming and exporting it from Canadian ports, specifically from ports here in B.C. This new proposal involves shipping thermal coal, which is the kind of coal burned only for energy, to Fraser Surrey Docks, where it would be loaded onto barges and taken to Texada Island to a storage facility. From there, it would be loaded onto freighters to be shipped overseas. It’s a controversial move that some in B.C., and elsewhere, say we should halt immediately.
I agree. There should be no expansion to ship coal to Texada, and for good reason. We already ship far too much of it without regard for the environment or the people who live along the rail routes that take the coal to our ports. The coal dust coming off open rail cars coats furniture, homes and our lungs. It impacts air quality, in particular with the increase in diesel exhaust resulting from increased train traffic.
Local ports are already the starting point for a large portion of the coal shipped overseas and the new application from will increase the amount of coal travelling through our communities substantially, bringing a stark question forth to the public.
Why is B.C. exporting U.S. coal? Why isn’t this coal simply being shipped out of U.S. ports instead of being transported to Canada for shipping overseas? The simple answer is U.S. ports don’t want it. Many American authorities up and down the U.S. coast have decided the risk and opposition of communities is too great to allow any further coal export expansions. In the face of strong opposition, they are saying “no” time and time again.
Read more: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2013/04/07/us-coal-export-a-dirty-job-so-let-the-us-do-it-themselves
Read this opinion piece on the website for Rail for the Valley, a group advocating for the resurrection of the old light rail Interurban Line from Surrey to Chilliwack, in response to a recent story by transportation planning consultant Eric Doherty in The Vancouver Observer, republished here last week. (April 8, 2013)
If there is any doubt that the bus lobby misrepresents the truth, the following will dispel it immediately.
The Vancouver Observer ran an item by Eric Doherty entitled, Humble trolley bus reborn as climate superhero, which the truth is so distorted that it leaves the reader with the impression that modern LRT is all but obsolete. What is even more distressing, Doherty is advising the NDP on regional transit issues.
Zwei takes great exception with the following excerpt:
The comparison to light rail vehicles is important when considering what routes are busy enough to justify the capital cost of building light rail. There is an overlap in the size of modern trams (streetcars and light rail vehicles) and modern buses. Smaller trams have capacities of around 150 people, whereas the largest buses carry up to 200. There is a large potential labour saving in utilizing much larger rail vehicles carrying over 500 people on very busy routes. But on less busy routes there is now little or no labour cost saving to going to rail vehicles. Frequency of service is one of the most important factors in attracting transit riders, so running large light rail vehicles infrequently is not much of an option.
The modern tram has capacities of 200 to 350 people, the smaller trams mentioned are either heritage vehicles or operate on routes that demand a smaller vehicle. Today, the tram is made of modular construction and a smaller tram can economically ‘grow’ with ridership demands on a transit route, by adding a new module, something that is impossible for buses to do.
The three sectioned articulated buses mentioned in the piece are illegal to operate on Canadian streets unless they operate on a dedicated rights-of-ways or busways, which dramatically increase the cost of construction and operation.
The author makes an impression that trams can’t operate at close frequencies (which they can and more efficiently when headways are less than 60 seconds) and his larger bus compared to small tram is just dishonest.
But I will leave it with a German transit expert, Wolfgang Keller, to put things in a proper perceptive:
Quote; “In Europe, many transit agencies no longer differentiate between Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail lines”
What?! BRT isn’t an issue in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. What is common, however, is that buses use reserved streetcar lanes as bus-lanes.
There is one BRT network I know of in the Netherlands and a few lines in France. I have no clue of the UK though.
A regular contributor to “Stadtverkehr” (Harry Hondius) has somewhat advocated BRT recently, based on the excessive cost per km (up to 60 mio EUR iirc) of some new networks in France. But that excessive cost was not really rail-related, since the municipal authorities charged a lot of “urban refurbishment” works on the streetcar budget.
The TVR/GLT was a total disaster and it’s no longer marketed by Bombardier, just like all previous attempt at guided buses (Translohr is a streetcar, legally, it’s bidirectional and can run in MU, besides units over 24m). Caen has decided to replace it with actual streetcars. Nancy has decided to refurbish the TVR trolleybuses for something like 750,000 EUR (!) per piece to allow them to live for another 10-15 years, since they have never been really “fit for service”. There were not only numerous derailments, but also safety issues with the electric isolation of the traction equipment (Bombardiers had never built trolleybuses before and the electric equipment of trolleybuses is pretty special for safety reasons).
Read more: http://www.railforthevalley.com/latest-news/zweisystem/the-bus-lobby-uses-the-skytrain-lobbys-tacticts/
Read this story from The Vancouver Sun on Alberta scientist David Schindler's comparison between fish deformities being witnessed downstream from Alberta Tar Sands operations to similar observations following the Exxon Valdez and BP Gulf of Mexico oil spills. (April 4, 2013)
There appear to be "remarkable similarities" between fish deformities found downstream from Alberta's oilsands and those observed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and after Florida's Deepwater Horizon disaster, says a renowned ecologist.
David Schindler of the University of Alberta has written an open letter to two federal cabinet ministers pointing out the recent research findings from scientists as far afield as the Gulf of Mexico.
"Given the parallels in the cases from various locations, it seems likely that some chemical or suite of chemicals in crude oil is causing the malformations," Schindler wrote.
He's proposing that Canada take the lead in researching the issue by isolating the various chemical compounds and introducing them to fish stocks in a controlled setting.
And Schindler says the federal Experimental Lakes Area - which has been shut down by Ottawa for a savings of about $2 million annually - is the ideal natural laboratory for the work.
In a letter Wednesday to Fisheries Minister Keith Ash-field and Environment Minister Peter Kent - copied to a number of U.S. scientists and some news media - Schindler praised the monitoring work of government scientists in the Athabasca River.
But he said such monitoring can't possibly determine which chemicals may be affecting aquatic life due to the "complex chemical soup" found downstream from industrial oilsands development.
What's required, the scientist said, "would be whole ecosystem experiments where small amounts of selected chemicals are applied to whole lakes, and the effects determined on several key species in the food chain."
It's tailor-made for the federal Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario, a remote region of 58 pristine lakes that have been used since 1968 for groundbreaking freshwater studies on everything from nutrient-loading and mercury exposure to acid rain.
The Harper government announced last year it was closing the world-renowned facility as a cost-saving measure - although insiders say the operating cost of the facility is only $600,000 annually, of which a third comes back in user fees.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Canadian+scientist+links+fish+deformities+oilsands+American+spills/8193479/story.html#ixzz2PVUqrnjY
Read this story by sustainable transportation expert Eric Doherty in the Vancouver Observer on bringing back older public transit tools to help society transition away from fossil fuels. (Apr. 3, 2013)
If someone asked you about what technologies have the greatest potential to reduce the carbon pollution that is destabilizing our climate and turning our oceans acid, what would pop into your head first? Many people would mention wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, electric cars, and perhaps even bicycles lanes or light rail. But there is a potential climate superhero quietly patrolling the streets of Vancouver, Burnaby and about 300 other cities, the seldom-noticed electric trolley bus.
Part of what makes the trolley bus such a potential game changer is that it not a new and unproven invention; like the bicycle and electric streetcar the basic design has been refined gradually for over a century. The first trolley buses in regular service were very basic, like the electric streetcars that came into regular service about a decade earlier. Trolley buses have gradually been refined to be highly sophisticated forms of transportation with a solid track record, the largest carry up to 200 people in buses with three sections.
The trolley bus is not new, and neither are innovative ways of making them work better. In the late 1970s Zurich, Switzerland started creating a network of exclusive transit lanes and signal priority for both streetcars and trolley buses. At that time transit signal priority (traffic signals designed so that transit vehicles don’t have to stop at traffic lights) had to be invented from scratch. Now multiple manufacturers provide well proven transit priority systems. Every year the Zurich transit authority gets closer to its goal of never having transit passengers delayed by automobile traffic. And Zurich now has the highest transit ridership in Europe, without a subway or elevated rapid transit.
In 1995 the city of Quito, Ecuador started using trolley buses in a slightly different way than Zurich – by building a trolley bus rapid transit line with enclosed transit stations. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a simple concept – you give buses a dramatic makeover that makes the rider experience much like rapid transit on rails but with a much lower capital cost. The main elements are dedicated lanes with enforcement to keep cars out, signal priority so buses seldom have to stop at traffic lights, and all-door boarding to reduce the time spent at stops.
Many BRT systems now use digital video cameras on the front of buses to photograph and ticket vehicles that intrude into bus lanes, a powerful incentive for drivers to stay out of the way. In Europe, manytransit agencies no longer differentiate between Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail lines. Bus Rapid transit is typically a bit faster than light rail, and has about the same maximum capacity.
Read more: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/commentary/humble-trolley-bus-reborn-climate-superhero
Read this story from the LA Times on a coalition of environmental groups taking on the health and environmental impacts of processing low-grade Canadian bitumen at local refineries. (Apr. 2, 2013)
A coalition of environmental groups says it has discovered that large-scale shipments of low-quality heavy crude oil from Canada's tar sands are being delivered by rail for processing by Southern California refineries.
The groups on Tuesday called for an investigation by air-quality officials to evaluate the effects on health, air quality, safety and the climate of processing the heavy Canadian crude, which requires intensive processing to remove higher levels of sulfur to meet U.S. standards.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment say they worry that refineries now processing the semi-solid form of oil have increased their noxious emissions and raised risks of accidental spills and accidents. The process of refining tar sands oil is more corrosive on refinery equipment and produces more greenhouse gases than liquid crude, environmentalists said.
"Tar sands crude is a whole new level of bad," said Julia May, senior scientist at the Communities for a Better Environment, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing and reducing pollution in California's low-income communities. "Bringing it into the Los Angeles area by rail has taken everyone by surprise."
Of particular concern is the low-income community of Wilmington, a Los Angeles harbor town surrounded by five oil refineries and long decried by social justice groups as a "sacrifice zone" of commerce and toxic pollution. Three of the Wilmington refineries — Valero Energy Corp., Phillips 66 Co. and Tesoro Corp — recently announced plans to use rail cars to bring in more of the heavy Canadian crude.
Joe Gorder, president and chief executive of Valero Energy Corp., told shareholders recently that his company plans to import an additional 30,000 barrels a day of the Canadian crude to its Wilmington refinery. Deliveries of the heavy crude totaled about 29,000 barrels a day last year for the entire Los Angeles area, NRDC scientists said.
Valero also wants to build a rail terminal to supply its refinery in the Bay Area community of Benicia with 70,000 barrels a day of petroleum products, including dirtier crudes such as tar sands.
Oil company officials say they are operating within state and federal regulations. As cleaner, liquid crude oil from California declines, they say they must rely on a variety of sources, including heavy Canadian crude, to remain profitable and ensure the future of their operations.
In an interview, Valero spokesman Bill Day said, "Valero follows the law. If we add more Canadian crude it will mean no net increase in emissions."
The request for an investigation, submitted to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, argues that "the highly corrosive nature of tar sands will increase the likelihood for spills and accidents, posing direct safety risks and increased toxic emissions for both plant workers and the surrounding community."
May said the sulfur found in heavy crude speeds corrosion in equipment and could lead to explosions like the one last summer at Chevron's refinery in Richmond. A Cal/OSHA investigation into the Aug. 6 explosion at the Bay Area refinery found that the company did not follow safety recommendations made by its inspectors to replace a pipe corroded by sulfur. The pipe ruptured and fueled the fire.
Environmentalists also worry that increases in carbon pollution will make it harder to meet requirements of the state's global warming law, AB 32, which created a market that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Owners of power plants and factories buy and sell permits to release the gases into the atmosphere.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0403-dirty-oil-20130403,0,7952694.story
Read this story from CBC.ca on Saskatoon-based retired federal researcher Marley Waiser, who's speaking out against the muzzling of scientists by the Harper Government. (April 3, 2013)
A retired federal researcher based in Saskatoon is going public with concerns Ottawa is muzzling scientists like her.
Marley Waiser, 59, spent more than 25 years with Environment Canada, most recently with the National Water Research Institute in Saskatoon.
She retired last year, about a year after CBC News did a story about pollution in Regina's Wascana Creek that referenced her research.
In an interview, she says she wasn't allowed to talk to a CBC reporter about that story, but now wants her voice heard.
"I was reticent to come forward for fear of losing my job, or the repercussions," she said.
Waiser wrote two scientific papers for Environment Canada that were published in 2011 that looked at chemical pollutants (such as phosporus and ammonia) and pharmaceuticals (such as trace antibiotics) in Wascana Creek.
Both kinds of pollution were found downstream of the Regina sewage treatment plant west of the city.
Waiser says when CBC contacted her to talk about the research, Environment Canada higher-ups lowered the boom.
"One of the first things they said after reading the two papers on Wascana Creek is that they didn't want to upset the City of Regina," she said.
Waiser was told that she needed media training before she could talk to reporters about her research.
She says she wanted to get that and followed up with her supervisors, but the training was never arranged. Essentially, she was foiled not by a direct order not to talk, but by bureaucratic roadblocks, she said.
It's unfortunate for Canadians, she said, because they can benefit hearing first-hand from scientists studying the environment.
"We need to take care of our aquatic ecosystems," she said.
Environment Canada declined a recorded interview, but in an email, a spokesperson said the department won't comment on "hearsay."
The department says its researchers are encouraged to publish their work and civil servants are not muzzled.
Meanwhile, the office of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says it will be investigating similar claims involving seven government institutions, including Environment Canada and the Treasury Board.
Read original story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/04/03/sk-saskatoon-scientist-discusses-muzzling-concerns-1402.html?cmp=fbtl
Read this story from The New York Times on the dramatic expansion of of the mysterious problem killing bees across North America. (March 28, 2013)
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.
“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”
In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.
In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”
Following a now-familiar pattern, bee deaths rose swiftly last autumn and dwindled as operators moved colonies to faraway farms for the pollination season. Beekeepers say the latest string of deaths has dealt them a heavy blow.
Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.
“We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,” he said in an interview here this week.
“They looked beautiful in October,” Mr. Adee said, “and in December, they started falling apart, when it got cold.”
Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.
Annual bee losses of 5 percent to 10 percent once were the norm for beekeepers. But after colony collapse disorder surfaced around 2005, the losses approached one-third of all bees, despite beekeepers’ best efforts to ensure their health.
Nor is the impact limited to beekeepers. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.
Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation’s almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion-dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives.
This past winter’s die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Tex., said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/science/earth/soaring-bee-deaths-in-2012-sound-alarm-on-malady.html?hp&_r=3&
Read this story from the Canadian Press on the investigation being launched by Canada's Information Commissioner into government policies that are muzzling scientists from speaking publicly about taxpayer-funded research. (April 1,2013)
OTTAWA -- Federal policies that restrict what government scientists can say publicly about their work are about to be put under the microscope.
Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has agreed to investigate how government communications rules on taxpayer-funded science impact public access to information.
Legault is responding to a detailed complaint lodged by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and the ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch.
Their lengthy report -- "Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy?" -- laid out repeated examples of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to pre-packaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.
In a letter to the complainants, the commissioner's office noted she is required under the Access to Information Act to investigate any matter related to obtaining or requesting records.
The complaint alleges that by keeping government scientists from speaking out about their work, the public is denied the chance to request records -- because no one is ever made aware they exist in the first place.
The complaint "alleges that the right of access to information under the act is impeded by government policies, practices or guidelines that restrict or prohibit government scientists from speaking with the media and the Canadian public," Legault's office responded, saying it "falls with the scope" of the legislative mandate.
In addition to four government departments and two agencies cited in the complaint, Legault said she will also examine the Treasury Board Secretariat "because of its role in relation to the development and implementation of government policies."
Chris Tollefson, the executive director of UVic's law centre, said their research into suppressed science revealed both the wide scope of the practice and that it "represents a significant departure" in government practice over the last five to seven years.
"It really is a core issue in terms of the health of our democracy," Tollefson said in an interview. "We need to know what the best science is as we make difficult decisions about policy."
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been accused of silencing scientists on number of subjects, particularly environmental science, since the Conservatives came to power in 2006.
Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, was not available Monday to defend Conservative practices. His office provided an email stating government scientists "are readily available to share their research with the media and the public."
"Last year, Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued nearly 1,000 scientific publications, and Natural Resources Canada published nearly 500 studies," said the statement.
It came the same day that the Globe and Mail reported that the National Research Council declined to make available its lead engineer for a front page story on research into truck safety.
"Great spin -- but missing the point," Democracy Watch's Duff Conacher said of the government response.
"It's not the number of documents, it's what percentage of documents are being released."
Environment Canada forbids scientists from speaking publicly on issues such as climate change, polar bears or caribou without getting specific approval from the Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy that supports cabinet and the prime minister.
Natural Resources Canada requires pre-approval on any interview on topics such as "climate change, oilsands" as well as with any reporter from a national or international media outlet.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a communications policy that ensures "approved media lines are in place" before a scientist may speak with a reporter.
Read this story from Justine Hunter at The Globe and Mail on the gradual unveiling of the BC NDP's election platform. (March 31, 2013)
Adrian Dix and his B.C. New Democratic Party are about to start the big reveal – the release, in stages, of their election platform.
This week, Mr. Dix is expected to roll out the first stage. This will be a bid to tear down the B.C. Liberal budget plan. While the Liberal government says its proposed budget is balanced, the NDP calculates it is actually deeply in the red. By the NDP’s estimates, there is about a $1.2-billion hole – a combination of unfounded revenue projections for asset sales and B.C. Hydro dividends, and unrealistically low expenditures, particularly around health care. The average rate of increase of government spending has been a little more than 3 per cent in recent years, and this budget calls for growth of just 0.8 per cent.
Once that message has had a chance to settle in, the NDP will move to stage two, likely next week, when it will say what it would do differently. Its fiscal framework will spell out spending priorities and tax policy for the coming four years.
For two years, Mr. Dix has talked about an increase in corporate tax rates, and more recently his party has signalled that it would hike taxes for high-income earners. But the Liberals raided those ideas in their February budget. The Liberals plan to raise business taxes by $290-million in the coming year, while those earning more than $150,000 face higher personal income taxes.
That leaves the NDP with one additional measure – a bank tax that would bring in an estimated $140-million – and the additional 1-per-cent increase in the corporate tax rate, which would bring in another $200-million. But there are NDP spending commitments – such as more money for public transit and student grants – that would chew up some of that. What they are left with, almost certainly, is a campaign that proposes a deficit budget against the Liberals’ claims of balance.
Finally, the NDP’s policies will be doled out in slices throughout the campaign that begins April 16. This is the typical fodder of campaigns, where the party leader stands in front of some thoughtfully arranged backdrop to make announcements designed to capture the daily news cycle.
Read more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-ndp-leader-to-reveal-one-platform-proposal-at-a-time/article10599788/
Read this story from the Vancouver Observer on a new study published in the prestigious journal Science which suggests the planet has seen 4,000 years word of normal warming in just the past two decades. ( )
A new study published in the journal Science shows how freakishly extreme global warming has become in the last few decades.
The scientists from Oregon State University and Harvard University used dozens of sources of ice cores and sediment cores from around the world to reconstruct the Earth’s temperature record for the last 1,100 decades. This detailed record stretches back much farther than previous studies.
Global temperatures rose slowly for thousands of years after the end of the last ice age. Temperatures peaked around 5,000 BC, at a level close to where we are today. Then temperatures declined slowly for thousands of more years.
Now, suddenly, the global temperature has started rocketing upwards. Far more troubling than the actual temperature is the fact that the changes are accelerating dramatically.
The century from 1860 to 1960 saw rapid warming. The next two decades more than doubled that warming. And then the next two decades – 1980 to 2000 – went ballistic, piling on thousands of years of warming.
Last week another study was published showing global warming has continued to accelerate since then, with dramatic warming of the world's oceans in the last 15 years.
Read story and graphs: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/climatesnapshot/we-just-experienced-4000-years-global-warming-two-decades
Read this story from the Vancouver Sun on the PR battle over BC Auditor General John Doyle's scathing audit of the Pacific Carbon Trust, a crown corporation set up to trade carbon offsets. (Mar. 28, 2013)
VICTORIA — Auditor general John Doyle blasted the management of the Pacific Carbon Trust Wednesday, saying the public organization at the centre of his damning audit on carbon neutrality actively worked to undermine his efforts.
“Of all the reports I have issued, never has one been targeted in such an overt manner by vested interests, nor has an audited organization ever broken my confidence, as did the senior managers at PCT by disclosing confidential information to carbon market developers and brokers,” Doyle wrote in a scathing introduction to his report.
Doyle pointed to an “orchestrated letter-writing campaign” from “domestic and foreign entities,” which he said significantly delayed the report.
“I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and disappointment that a public sector entity, with a fiduciary duty to the people of British Columbia, chose to expend its time and energy in this manner, rather than addressing the concerns raised,” he wrote.
Pacific Carbon Trust CEO Scott MacDonald fought back, saying there was “absolutely no disclosure of confidential information.”
“We’ve never shared the report with anybody. We’ve never shared the final results. We’ve only checked facts that he shared with us to ensure he has an accurate report,” said MacDonald, adding he did so with expert organizations that had already done significant work in the field.
MacDonald also said some of the organizations that wrote Doyle did so as a result of concerns they developed on their own after exchanges with Doyle’s office, and not because of leaks.
As for the letters sent to Doyle, he denied there was any orchestrated campaign.
“It wasn’t a letter-writing campaign. This was an assertion by industry experts that were communicating with him, at a variety of different levels, to help him get a better report,” he said.
“They are letters that offer assistance. They are letters that clarify his work. They are letters that provide him factual and contextual information that will help him get a better audit.”
MacDonald’s assertions were backed up by David Antonioli, chief executive officer of Washington, D.C.-based Verified Carbon Standard, an organization that sets standards for carbon trading.
“This is something that we think is important for the VCS. Ultimately what the (auditor general’s office) seemed to be doing was substituting their own judgment for that of what we’ve established, which is a standard that has been developed through public consultation, stakeholder engagement, etc.,” said Antonioli, who said he wrote several letters to Doyle’s office after it contacted him with questions in connection with the audit.
“We thought it was important to draw attention to the fact that he was just plain wrong,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to get through to the (auditor general’s) office for about a year now on these points and it’s really concerning that he’s now trying to turn it around and make it be that there’s this conspiracy going around.”
International Emissions Trading Association president and CEO Dirk Forrister said he believes B.C.’s office of the auditor general “came to its conclusion without any real technical expertise on the subject matter.”
“The office was disinterested in engaging with the expert international community, choosing instead to go-it-alone despite the highly technical and specialized field of study,” he said in a news release.
The association was among the organizations that sent a letter to Doyle.
Assistant auditor general Morris Sydor — the lead auditor on the file — said on Wednesday that his office absolutely understands the fundamental basics and has reached the proper conclusions.
“When you look at our report, we are looking at a couple of very fundamental easy-to-understand issues.”
He said his office began getting letters from international organizations — some of which he said were not directly involved in the programs being audited — not long after his office provided some preliminary findings to the Pacific Carbon Trust.
“What we found was that Pacific Carbon Trust, along with several others, was orchestrating a campaign asking these organizations to send letters to the office,” he said.
“Very early, seven or eight months ago, these organizations started worrying about what our report might say and the impact it would have on the carbon market.”
The Pacific Carbon Trust is a Crown corporation overseen by a government-appointed board. The board is chaired by Chris Trumpy, a retired bureaucrat who for years served as the deputy minister of finance.
The corporation’s CEO MacDonald also disclosed Wednesday that his organization hired a pair of firms — Laura Ballance Media Group and Wazuku Advisory Group — to help with its strategy on how to react to the audit.
“We routinely outsource things when we need assistance,” said MacDonald, adding his is a small organization.
That revelation brought an immediate condemnation from NDP environment critic Rob Fleming.
“If they are using tax dollars for government relations firms and spin doctors to attack an independent officer of the legislature that’s a huge concern,” he said.