Published by Postmedia News on Sunday Jun 3 2012
OTTAWA – The federal government has suggested it could replace a team of smokestack pollution specialists by turning to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, appearing to contradict its own description of the scientists and their work on Environment Canada’s website.
The apparent contradiction comes as hundreds of charities and organizations across Canada will stage what they are calling a “Black out, Speak out” event on Parliament Hill on Monday, denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for adopting policies they describe as anti-environment and anti-democratic.
The government has projected savings of about $718,000 by eliminating its internal research capabilities on industrial emissions measurements. It also estimated it would need to spend about $115,000 to obtain and analyze data from other external sources, such as the EPA.
The cuts are among millions of dollars in proposed reductions to existing federal programs for research and monitoring of air, water and wildlife.
“One example (of a source that could replace data collected by Environment Canada specialists) would be the U.S. EPA – the recognized regulatory authority for emission measurement in the U.S.,” wrote Adam Sweet, a spokesman for Environment Minister Peter Kent in an e-mail to Postmedia News.
“I am fairly certain you will agree that they are a highly credible external source.”
But when asked whether this would mean U.S. regulators would come into Canada to inspect and monitor Canadian industrial facilities, Kent’s office suggested the team of seven smokestack scientists was not doing this type of work.
“Please note that the unit in question does not conduct monitoring,” Sweet wrote. “More specifically, they do not conduct field/stack measurements to monitor industry’s compliance. This was the unit who developed different methodologies of measurement.”
Environment Canada says on its website that the team’s work is divided into four key areas including the development of regulations as well as “enforcement and compliance” activities such as support for enforcement officers.
Todd Panas, president of the Union of Environment Workers, which represents some members on the team, said that the government was giving “incorrect information” about the team’s work by suggesting it does not do field work.
“The department speaks of shifting from internally developing emissions measurement methodologies,” said Panas. “This is only a very small percentage of what the unit does.”
He added that the unit does monitoring and field measurements to provide support to industry and other third parties. The union has also described the unit as a unique team that offers services that are not available from other sources.
It suggested that members of the team would be needed to assess and verify any data that would now be coming from outside sources.
The Harper government declined to provide details in April about the team’s work, citing privacy concerns and “consideration” for the department’s employees. It later offered explanations about the cuts after a Postmedia News investigation revealed all seven members of the team had received notice that their current positions were being eliminated.
Sweet said the government disputes the union’s description of the unit’s activities.
Meanwhile, environmental groups plan to stage a symbolic “blacking out” of Canada’s Parliament buildings Monday as part of their campaign that will also see their own websites blacked out for the day to protest what they describe as the Harper government’s efforts to attack the reputations of Canadian charity groups, slash funding for environmental protection programs and weaken Canada’s environmental laws through legislation to be adopted in the coming weeks following a limited debate in the House of Commons.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she opposed federal cuts adopted by the former Liberal government in the 1990s, but said the current Conservative government is doing more damage by cutting programs without being transparent about the consequences.
“They’ve now apparently decided that U.S. law enforcement officials are allowed to come into Canada to arrest people under U.S. law (so) maybe they plan to have environmental reviews for all of Canada conducted in the United States and enforced by U.S. officials,” May said, with tongue in cheek. “I say that facetiously, because I don’t think that’s their intent. But they might as well. They look like they’re closing up shop on what Environment Canada should be doing on water quality, on air quality, on what (the Fisheries Department) should be doing on habitat protection.”
She noted that the public is now finding out about cuts that threaten public health through the news media, via anonymous public servants who are afraid the government will punish them for speaking out.
“This is by stealth,” she said. “We are losing the capacity to even know the damage we’re doing to the environment.”