Tag: Canada

Water is Life: Strengthening the Great Lakes Commons

On September 29-30, 2017, concerned residents from across Michigan, USA and Ontario, Canada, along with Indigenous peoples will gather in Flint, Michigan to discuss Great Lakes threats, human rights and water sovereignty.

We invite you to participate in this community-based summit of Michigan, Ontario and Indigenous residents opposing commodification and privatization of water, and strengthening the Great Lakes commons and indigenous sovereignty. Featured keynotes, plenaries and workshops will address how bottled water turns commons into commodities and how Great Lakes peoples can shift water ownership into guardianship and a human right.

Register TODAY and indicate your workshop preferences, spaces limited.

Canada’s Bill 6 Great Lakes Protection Act, the Public Trust, and Your Water Rights

Jim Olson, FLOW President

Jim Olson, FLOW President

This week I teamed up with Ralph Pentland, a leading Canadian water policy expert (see Pentland and Wood, Down the Drain, Greystone Books, 2013), and submitted to the Ontario Parliament comments on Bill 6, its proposed Great Lakes Protection Act. Bill 6 looks to the future by requiring policy and initiatives to protect Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, but does not declare or recognize the importance of protecting the public’s right to use these waters and the water they depend on for enjoyment.

FLOW has been working at several levels to make sure the Great Lakes are protected as a public trust – with the International Joint Commission, federal government, and the states. But Canada and its provinces are equally part of the Great Lakes Basin and community, and they, too, recognize the importance of the public right to boat, fish, and swim in the Great Lakes basin. As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court and state courts have ruled for more than 100 years that the waters, shore, and bottomland of the Great Lakes and all connecting or tributary streams and waters are owned by the state and held in trust for all citizens of each state, as legal beneficiaries. This means the state must protect, and that others cannot impair, the public’s right to boat, fish, swim and enjoy these public trust waters and shores.

Canada’s Pentland and my joint comments on Bill 6 to Ontario legislators and leaders spell out the application of the public right to use these waters that is recognized by the provinces, and that these rights, like the public trust in the U.S., are held in trust by the government. On both sides of the border, these waters are held in trust, and government has an affirmative duty to account to the people as beneficiaries that the waters have been and will be protected. If governments or others violate this duty, citizens have a right to demand the violation is correct — like beach closings, nutrient run off and “dead zones,” and drops in water levels. Pentland and I urge Ontario to declare these waters a public trust and impose duties and rights to make sure the rights of all citizens, the legal beneficiaries of the trust, are honored from one generation to the next.

The full text of our comments are set forth below:
Click here to view the comments as a PDF

31 October, 2013

Submission Regarding Bill 6, Great Lakes Protection Act

Ralph Pentland1 and James Olson2

The preamble to Bill 6 states that “In the face of the pressures of population growth and development, and threats such as climate change and invasive species, three of Ontario’s four Great Lakes are in decline.”3

That is clearly an understatement. New toxic substances are showing up in fish and sediments. These include fire retardants, plasticizers, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. Many of these pose a risk to fish, wildlife and people. Although the exact cause has not been definitively established, various species of Great Lakes fish now suffer from tumors and lesions, and their reproductive capacities are decreasing. Of the ten most valuable species in Lake Ontario, seven have almost totally vanished.

Non-native species are threatening the balance in biological systems and water chemistry, and climate change is contributing new challenges to the sustainability and health of the basin. In recent years, we have been witnessing biological deserts developing in some areas, a series of botulism outbreaks in fish and birds, and extensive algae blooms. An increasing proportion of these algae blooms are blue-green cyanobacteria, which when they break down release a variety of liver, skin and neurological toxins.4

We applaud Ontario for its environmental leadership for more than a century. It introduced the first nineteenth century public health Act, and was the first to manage water resources within the natural contours of river basins in the 1940s. Uniquely among provinces, Ontario enacted an Environmental Bill of Rights in 1993 which acknowledges that Ontarians “have a right to a healthy environment” and to “the means that it is ensured.”

In 2002, the Province passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which tightened oversight of municipal utilities, and mandated water testing and reporting to provincial authorities. The Clean Water Act followed four years later. Both of these, along with existing legislation, such as the Ontario Water Resources Act (which among other things regulates municipal sewage discharge) received further updates in a suite of related amendments in 2009. And in 2010, the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act authorized a variety of measures, including mandatory plans for water sustainability.

The vision of Bill 6 to authorize policy initiatives, and if ever adopted implement the initiatives as benchmarks for governmental decision-making is laudatory. But, given the magnitude of the issues and the urgency for action to address the systematic threats to these waters, simply piling on more and more laws will not in and of itself accomplish the desired outcome. During the 20 years of legislative activism since enactment of the Environmental Bill of Rights in 1993, the Ontario Ministry of Environment lost 45 % of its budget, while overall government spending soared by 72% (in constant dollars). Coincidentally federal environmental capacity was also drastically curtailed over the same period. And not coincidentally, the decline in the health of the Great Lakes has accelerated over that same 20 year period.

After delivering his annual report to the Ontario legislature in November of 2011, Environment Commissioner Gordon Miller reminded reporters that “I have 30 years of experience and I’m nervous”. He pointed to a “culture of inaction and procrastination” in defence of water productive ecosystems, marked by a demonstrable decline in resources dedicated to protecting Ontario’s overtaxed landscape.5

Have we been making the right choices? Probably not. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that well-designed and stringently enforced environmental regulation will yield economic benefits greater than their costs. As we let the quality, and in some instances the quantity of the Great Lakes and other provincial ecosystems decline, there is a very high probability that we are becoming both less wealthy and less healthy than we would have been if we had protected those ecosystems more rigorously.6

The proposed Great Lakes Protection Act has many good features. But, it could be both more effective and more beneficial if it were to include provisions designed to uphold the Bill of Rights guarantees of a “right to a healthy environment” and “the means that it is ensured.”

In enacting the Environmental Bill of Rights in 1993, the Province of Ontario essentially and quite appropriately accepted the fact that it has a fiduciary duty to preserve the essence of provincial environmental resources for the use and enjoyment of the entire populace into perpetuity. There can be no more important governmental responsibility than preserving the natural security supporting health, wealth and life itself.

The Ontario Bill of Rights commitments are not unlike the public trust doctrine as it has evolved in the United States and has been increasingly recognized in Canada. Public trust principles can be traced from Rome to the present, through both civil law systems, like those in France and Spain, and common law systems, like those in Canada and the United States. As a result, generally the waters of the Great Lakes are held in the public domain in the name of the Crown in Canada, and in the sovereign state in the United States, in trust for the benefit and welfare of its citizens.

Today, the courts in all eight Great Lakes states have recognized the public trust doctrine, either expressly by naming the Great Lakes and the connecting or tributary waters subject to a public trust, or though application of the public’s paramount right and use of public or navigable waters. More recently, the Canadian courts have begun to recognize the potential of public trust principles, and several Canadian water law and policy experts have urged the adoption of public trust principles by the courts or the provincial governments. And, while not labelled public trust, Canadian courts have consistently recognized that the Great Lakes are subject to a paramount right of the public to navigate, fish, boat and otherwise enjoy these waters. This means the governments hold the waters in trust to prevent a subordination or interference with this fundamental public right.

Under these principles, governments have a continuing duty to determine that there will be no significant impairment or harm to the flows, levels, quality and integrity of public trust waters, uses and ecosystems before they approve or deny a governmental private action. This duty requires the collection of data and information necessary for long-term planning sufficient to satisfy the solemn and perpetual trust responsibility, and affected interests and citizens as beneficiaries can institute administrative or judicial actions, as a last resort, to enforce public trust duties or apply public trust limitations that protect the integrity of the whole.7 If this duty is honoured by government and citizens, there will be instant consideration of the whole of the systemic threats facing the Great Lakes in every government decision that may impact these waters, their uses, and ecosystem. This would bring about instant accountability while the policy and initiatives called or by Bill 6 are developed and implemented.

Public trust (or public rights) principles could be introduced into Bill 6 by including:

  1. A general recognition of the interconnected or single hydrological relationship of the waters of the Ontario portion of the Great Lakes Basin with other portions of the Basin waters, including tributary groundwater and surface waters.
  2. A general recognition that these waters are held by the Crown in common and in public trust as recognized by decisions of the courts in Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada.
  3. A recognition that, along with First Nation interests, each citizen has a right as a member of the public to use and enjoy the waters and the bed of the Great Lakes and connecting and tributary navigable waters for boating, swimming, navigation and other water dependent public needs.
  4. A provision that such public right to use and enjoy these waters shall not be subordinated to primary private purposes or otherwise materially interfered with or impaired.
  5. A provision that any initiatives, decisions and instruments made or proposed under this Act shall conform to these public rights in navigable waters.

Endnotes
1. Ralph Pentland is Acting Chair of the Canadian Water Issues Council at the University of Toronto. He resides in Ottawa, Ontario
2. James Olson is Chairman of FLOW U.S. (for the Love of Water). He resides in Traverse City, Michigan
3. Bill 6, Great Lakes Protection Act 2013
4. Ralph Pentland and Chris Wood, Down the Drain: How We Are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources, Greystone Books, 2013
5. Gord Miller, Engaging Solutions: Annual Report 2010/2011, November 2011
6. Chapters 7 and 8 of Down the Drain (see 4 above)
7. James Olson and Elizabeth Kirkwood, Submission to the International Joint Commission, Comments on the Lake Erie Ecosystem Integrity (LEEP) Report, Scientific Findings and Policy Recommendations to Reduce Nutrient Loadings and Harmful Algal Blooms

The Province: B.C. should enshrine ‘public trust’ principle to protect its groundwater, says Michigan water lawyer

Read the full article in The Province here

Nestle - Laurence Gillieron, APAmid growing controversy around B.C.’s lax groundwater regulation, an American lawyer who waged a 10-year winning court battle against Nestlé is watching to see how the province modernizes its century-old Water Act.

The Province’s reports last week on Nestlé and other companies extracting B.C. groundwater without regulation caught the attention of Michigan environmental lawyer Jim Olson, who offered his views on the matter.

Olson is no stranger to these issues. In 2010, he was awarded the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice award for the decade-long court battle he waged on behalf of Michigan citizens against Nestlé.

The case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestlé began in 2000, when activists grew concerned the government was not adequately monitoring or controlling Nestlé’s water-taking practices in the region.

Representing the citizens, Olson won the case, resulting in Nestlé being ordered to reduce its water withdrawals during low-flow seasons.

Now, Olson says he’s watching B.C. But beyond the specific details of B.C.’s proposed water regulation — the price charged per million litres, the number of litres allowed, how much to allocate to different users, and so on — Olson says one vital piece of any new legislation is a broader legal concept: the public trust.

“This is true in both the United States and Canada, both states and provinces, no matter what water regime you choose … it’s going to be very important for each province to declare water a public trust,” Olson said from his law office in Michigan.

The public trust concept essentially means water is a public resource owned by the people of Canada, with the government acting as a trustee responsible for taking care of the resource.

“It’s a very important principle, even if it’s a one-paragraph declaration,” Olson said. “It would operate as a shield against unforeseen claims and unforeseen circumstances.”

Olson gives a hypothetical example: if, at some point in the future, B.C.’s water resources were depleted significantly, the government might ask a bottled water company to reduce their water takings accordingly. But without the public trust doctrine enshrined in legislation, it would be much more difficult to make that company reduce its consumption, not unlike Olson’s court case against Nestlé in Michigan.

The public trust doctrine is becoming increasingly common and established in modern water legislation, said Oliver Brandes, a water expert from the University of Victoria’s faculty of law. The legal concept is more evolved in several American states, and has been incorporated into environmental legislation in some parts of Canada, including Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Quebec.

The public trust concept acknowledges that water is different from other resources, said Brandes.

“There are certain resources that are just so special, because life depends on it,” Brandes said. “Something like oil and gas, it isn’t crucial to life. But water, you have to protect it for everybody, because if you take it away, there is no substitute.”

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes that No One Seems to Know About

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes and No One Seems to Know About It: Expanding Enbridge’s Line 5 Through the Straits of Mackinac

Click here to read and download PDF

How often do you hear a story in the news and then feel utterly shocked that you didn’t know anything about it? Well, that’s how all 40 million of us living in the Great Lakes should feel about the Enbridge Line 5 expansion across the Straits of Mackinac—a pipeline expansion project that will transport tar sands oil directly through the heart of the Great Lakes. In a nutshell, this just may be the greatest threat facing the Great Lakes at this time in history. “An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac isn’t a question of if—it’s a question of when,” according to National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) comprehensive report on this issue, Sunken Hazard.

What would a tar sands oil spill the size of Exxon-Valdez mean for the Great Lakes? Goodbye fisheries, aquatic food links, goodbye wildlife, goodbye municipal drinking water, goodbye Mackinac Island, goodbye tourism and property values, and goodbye to one of the world’s largest freshwater inland seas.

What company is stealthily completing this hazardous energy venture with limited public scrutiny? Enbridge—the same Canadian company responsible in 2010 for a million gallon tar sands oil pipeline rupture and a $1 billion cleanup along a 35-mile stretch of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Known as the largest transporter of crude oil, Enbridge is requesting a permit from the State Department’s U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to expand its existing pipeline—Line 67 also known as the Alberta Clipper—to transport heavy tar sands oil originating from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. From there, Enbridge, according to company officials, has already expanded the capacity of a second existing pipeline—Line 5—that travels directly through the Straits of Mackinac to a refinery located in Sarnia, Ontario. The 1,000+ mile Alberta Clipper pipeline route will double the tar sands oil that it currently carries and will deliver even more tar sands oil than the highly publicized and controversial TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Built sixty years ago in 1953, Line 5’s twin pipelines that cross the Straits of Mackinac—each 20 inches in diameter—were designed to transport light conventional crude oil, not Enbridge’s viscous, heavy tar sands oil or “bitumen” blended or diluted with volatile natural gas liquid condensate, also known as “dilbit.” Dilbit spills are particularly difficult to remediate because the bitumen and diluents separate, releasing toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy, sticky bitumen material. And in Lake Michigan, who knows how long it would take to actually clean up these pollutants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that it takes an average of 99 years to rid of pollutants in Lake Michigan.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into Enbridge’s depressing track record. According to NWF, “Enbridge’s pipelines had more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil.” So with the combination of strong currents along the Straits, Enbridge’s inexcusable track record, its weak emergency response, and a strong likelihood of mechanical pipeline failure in this fragile ecosystem, we must ask ourselves: is this a risk we as citizens, inheritors, and future protectors of the Great Lakes are willing to accept?

This Enbridge pipeline expansion is a perfect example of why we have the public trust in our navigable waters—an ancient legal doctrine dating back to the Roman times—designed to protect our common shared resources like the Great Lakes. The public trust empowers us as a democratic and thoughtful people to question the impacts of proposed actions like Enbridge’s and determine whether they will impair, pollute or irreparably harm our water resources, and jeopardize protected water uses like fishing, swimming, and navigation.

This proposed action is a clear violation of the public trust as the pipeline threatens to destroy the Great Lakes’ common waters, which support the region’s $62 billion economy with 1.5 million jobs, drinking water for 40 million citizens, as well as our very social fabric, quality of life and enjoyment, and shared ecosystem with wildlife. The unprecedented scale of such an ecological and economic disaster also would undermine the $1 billion already invested in the U.S. government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This is why the public trust and its protection of the commons is more important than ever.

What this debate really boils down to is a much-needed larger national conversation about our country’s future energy policy. Not only does President Obama need to have the Keystone XL pipeline on his radar, but all pipeline expansions like this project, in assessing the impacts of climate change. It’s time that our nation makes good energy choices that respect the Great Lakes as a shared common resource protected by the public trust. We need to put the safety of our water and our future generations before our overzealous energy development. If we do this, we can chart a future with clean and abundant water, food, energy and a prosperous economy.

Looking for something concrete to do about this pressing pipeline issue? Come join FLOW, TC350, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Land Use Institute, Food & Water Watch, and many other organizations and attend the Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes on July 14th at the St. Ignace Bridge View Park, just north of the Mackinac Bridge. The purpose of the rally is to bring attention to the dangers of this pipeline and its expansion, and to organize a response to these risks. We want to pressure our leaders to put safety measures in place to prevent a devastating oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes. Click here to sign up and RSVP via this Facebook event.

oil and water dont mix photo

Thousands demand Lone Pine drop its NAFTA lawsuit against Québec’s fracking moratorium

Coalition for petition against LPR to drop NAFTA lawsuit vs. Quebec

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate publication

Thousands demand Lone Pine drop its NAFTA lawsuit against Québec’s fracking moratorium

(Ottawa, May 31, 2013) – Two weeks after the launch of a public petition, organizers have received over 3,000 signatures demanding that energy company Lone Pine Resources drop its $250 million NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) lawsuit against Canada for Québec’s moratorium on fracking.

The petition sponsors—the Council of Canadians, the Réseau québécois sur l’Intégration continentale (RQIC), Sierra Club US, FLOW (For Love of Water), Eau Secours! and AmiEs de la Terre—sent three letters to Lone Pine today, each signed by 1,000 people, and will continue to collect signatures until the company agrees to drop the suit.

“People across Canada and the United States are outraged that a company would claim it has a ‘right’ to frack under trade deals like NAFTA, and that we might have to pay Lone Pine Resources not to drill in the St. Lawrence,” says Emma Lui, water campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “There should be no ‘right’ to frack, or to dig a mine, or lay a pipeline. Investment treaties cannot be allowed to override community decisions.”

“Governments must have the flexibility to say ‘no’ to fracking and other environmentally destructive practices without trade rules getting in the way,” said Ilana Solomon, Trade Representative with the Sierra Club. “The fact that a U.S. oil and gas corporation has threatened to bring a trade case against the government of Canada over a law intended to protect the health and well-being of its citizens shows just how backward our trade rules have become.”

In 2011, the Quebec government placed a moratorium on all new drilling permits until a strategic environmental evaluation was completed. When the current Quebec government was elected last year, it extended the moratorium to all exploration and development of shale gas in the province. Last fall, Lone Pine indicated that it planned to challenge Quebec’s fracking moratorium. Instead of going to court, the Calgary-based company is using its incorporation in Delaware to access the investment protection chapter of NAFTA, which is only available to U.S. and Mexican companies, to challenge the Quebec moratorium in front of a paid, largely unaccountable investment tribunal. The company says the Québec moratorium is “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and that it deprives Lone Pine of its right to profit from fracking for natural gas in Québec’s Saint Lawrence Valley.

“Lone Pine must drop its scandalous lawsuit against this legitimate policy of the Quebec government, who has just been listening to its people,” says Pierre-Yves Serinet, coordinator of the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC). “These provisions of such free trade agreements are direct attacks on the sovereign right of the Quebec government to govern for the welfare of its population. It’s astonishing that the negotiations between Canada and the European Union (CETA) follow the same blueprint. Time has come to end the excessive powers to multinationals,” added the spokesperson for RQIC.

“No trade tribunal should allow a company to sue a State that tries to protect water, which is a common good at the core of the survival and the health of the peoples and the ecosystems. Eau Secours! presses the Quebec government to also change its antiquated law on mining, to improve its water law and its sustainable development regulations to clearly reaffirm this willingness of protection,” declared Martine Châtelain, president of the coalition for a responsible management of water Eau secours!.

“Water in North America is part of a single system, starting with hydrologic cycle, and subject to generational public trust responsibility,” says Jim Olson, Chair and President of FLOW. “A moratorium that exercises this responsibility can hardly be challenged as a regulation: public trust and water have inherent limits.”

The NAFTA dispute and letter-writing campaign is happening as the Parti Québécois introduces legislation that would ban fracking in the St. Lawrence Lowlands for up to five years. The organizations involved in the letter-writing campaign are encouraged by the decision but support a complete Quebec-wide moratorium on fracking for oil and gas.

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MORE INFORMATION

Emma Lui, Water Campaigner, Council of Canadians,

613-298-8792elui@canadians.org

Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs | www.canadians.org/fracking