Defending marine ecosystems and fisheries from fossil fuel development

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Defending marine ecosystems and fisheries from fossil fuel development

Gretchen Fitzgerald is the national program director for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation. John Davis is the director of the Clean Ocean Action Committee, a consortium of organizations based in the east coast fishing industry. Both are part of the Offshore Alliance, a coalition working to oppose regulatory changes that they argue would put the marine environment and the fishery at risk and would give too much power to fossil fuel industries in shaping when, where, and how offshore oil and gas projects proceed. Scott Neigh interviews them about the threat that this poses to marine ecosystems and to the wellbeing of many Nova Soctia communities, and about what the Offshore Alliance is doing to try and stop it.

Think back to 2015. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals had just ended nine years of Conservative rule. Though many people committed to working for social and environmental justice were skeptical from the beginning of how much this new government would actually change things, there was still a sense of widespread relief at the change in the landscape in which grassroots movements would be continuing to push for change.

Since that time, there have been no shortage of examples where the promised "sunny ways" of the Liberal government have proven to be more gloss than substance – environmental issues prominently among them. Perhaps most visible in this area has been the federal approval of tar sands pipelines, with the accompanying bizarre justification that building new infrastructure that will contribute to climate change is somehow an integral part of fighting climate change. However, that is far from the only example. The Liberals have also been hard at work figuring out how to re-vamp the environmental assessment system that was gutted by the previous government, and recently released a massive draft bill containing their proposed changes, which has been met with mixed reviews from people engaged on the ground in struggles related to the environment.

This episode of Talking Radical Radio deals with one specific area where, not only does this new legislation fail to reverse damage done by the previous government, it in fact makes it worse. Since the mid 1980s, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board have existed as joint federal/provincial agencies. They are largely staffed with people who have some connection to fossil fuel industries, and their mandate from the governments that created them is to promote oil and gas development on the east coast. They already play a role in shaping where certain kinds of potentially dangerous fossil fuel exploration activities occur – things like seismic blasting, which can have a major impact on ecosystems.

Today's guests argue that this role should be decreased, to reduce the power of industry and strengthen the role of environmental protection principles in deciding where and when these activities can occur. The new legislation, however, does exactly the opposite, and expands the power of the petroleum boards to include a major role not just in shaping exploratory activity but in the environmental assessment process itself for all offshore fossil fuel projects, including drilling and production.

This has energized a rare instance of coalition between environmental groups, community groups, and a wide cross section of organizations based in the east coast fishery, under the banner of the Offshore Alliance. The environmental and community side includes not just the Sierra Club but local environmental organizations like the Ecology Action Centre and major national groups like the Council of Canadians. And the Clean Ocean Action Committee brings together fisheries groups, vessel owners, captains, crew members, plant operators, and workers – altogether, representing about 9000 people dependent on fishing in the waters around Nova Scotia.

Gretchen and John argue that it would be inappropriate for agencies whose mandate is to promote fossil fuel extraction to play such a significant role in the environmental assessment of exactly the kinds of projects that they are mandated to promote. They argue that this puts ecosystems at risk and it puts the livelihoods of people who depend on healthy fisheries at risk. And they argue that it is contrary to many of the things promised by the Liberals in 2015, and that it demonstrates the ongoing power wielded by the fossil fuel industry in Ottawa, to the detriment of the environment and other sectors of the economy.

Image: The image modified for use in this post is used under the Creative Commons Zero – CCO license.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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