Environment: Relative Peace may be Ending

Despite a few minor flare-ups around the Copenhagen Climate Summit and substances like bisphenol A and asbestos, the last five years have been relatively quiet with respect to environment policy battles. That peace, relative to much of the 1990’s, may be coming to an end.

Some of the peacefulness, especially in Canada, arose because governments dramatically reduced the funding which environmental groups previously received from them. Some came from governments’ improved ability to disarm criticism, most often with responses like “we are studying the problem”. Some came because the media lost much of its ability to properly report on environmental issues which are, despite appearances, often extremely complex. Some came because activism amongst the post-secondary student community died down with growing emphasis on finding increasingly scarce well-paying jobs.

Recently there have been some stirrings of the old confrontational environmentalist agenda. Federal staffing cuts at Environment Canada, the pouring of US corporate money into the fight against climate change action, and efforts to undo environmental legislation and regulation by the Tea Party members of Congress are providing an opportunity for the environmental movement.

Environmental activists, and the groups for which they work, often have a political agenda. They love a political battle, not least because it provides the best possible fundraising opportunity. Saving the Grand Canyon from mining, battling the rollback of toxic chemical regulations, saving the cute spotted owl, and fighting for ‘cap and trade’ (yes, even that!) offer far more effective fundraising opportunities than writing environmental primers, lobbying against an obscure chemical, or pushing for renewal of energy conservation grants.

Anti-environment governments, and the corporations that encourage them to follow an anti-environment agenda, cause far more harm to the industrial and resource-based economy than governments that follow a planned and steady plan for addressing environmental challenges using science and sustainable development based approaches. If industry associations want to avoid such newsworthy events as demonstrations, the climbing of plant gates, and the takeover of annual meetings by activists, possibly even the boycott of products, GallonDaily recommends that they work with governments and environmental groups to develop properly planned rollout of environmental and social responsibility policies that come close to meeting the objectives of mainstream North American voters.

The above is a GallonDaily editorial and advisory to business. GallonDaily’s editor has more than 25 years of experience in working with industry, government, and environmental groups in development of environmental strategies that work for the environment and the economy.

CBC News Misleads Consumers on Green Laundry Detergent

Last weekend CBC News carried a story on the theme “Some ‘green’ detergents contain petrochemicals”. CBC News had undertaken a test of three leading brands of ‘green’ laundry detergent for renewable carbon (plant-based carbon) content and had found that two of them contained some ingredients derived from fossil-based carbon. There are two aspects of the story which caught GallonDaily’s eye.

First, there is absolutely nothing anywhere that states that green laundry detergents should only contain plant-based ingredients. In fact, some plant-based detergents contain more embedded fossil energy, because of their manufacturing process, than detergents from petroleum raw materials. Even Ecologo, which the CBC’s advisor, journalist Adria Vasil, suggests consumers should look for on green products, does not require green cleaners to be made from 100% plant-based surfactants. Only a rigorous Life Cycle Assessment, which the CBC did not perform, can determine the real fossil carbon content of a product. Hence the CBC story was, in GallonDaily’s opinion, misleading to consumers.

Second, perhaps of greater interest to businesses making claims about plant-based ingredients, is that CBC published the report of the testing lab which identified the percentage of fossil carbon in the green laundry detergents. The testing was done by Beta Analytic Inc. in Miami, Florida.  Beta Analytic is a radiocarbon dating laboratory that applied an ASTM testing standard to determine the percentage of fossil carbon and tropospheric carbon in the product. There are few cases where the reports from application of the ASTM standard are in the public domain, so the CBC tests provide an opportunity for manufacturers, brandowners and consultants to see the results of actual tests undertaken to determine the fossil and contemporary carbon content of products.  It should be noted that ASTM itself states that the test method does not address environmental impact, product performance and functionality, determination of geographical origin, or assignment of required amounts of biobased carbon necessary for compliance with [US] federal laws. In other words, the test method that the CBC used is by itself insufficient for determination of fossil carbon content for regulatory purposes.

Another television news program, not the CBC, invited Adria Vasil, the person quoted by the CBC as demanding government regulation of green claims, which regulation already exists though apparently not to her personal liking, to a joint interview on the subject of the CBC findings with GallonDaily’s editor. Vasil’s agent declined the interview opportunity, reportedly saying that she would not be taking any more media interviews until her next book comes out in the Spring.

The CBC News report and, by a link on the page, the Beta Analytics report can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/07/08/laundry-detergent-green.html

Full disclosure: GallonDaily’s editor has been third-party analyst for the largest green product program in Canada since 1989.

Canada not so bad on renewable energy investment

According to a just published report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011, prepared by Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the UN Environment Programme, total investment in renewable energy in developing countries now exceeds that in developed countries. To some extent that parallels what is happening in telecommunications: developing countries are leapfrogging over older technologies and are moving directly to the latest technology. In the case of telecommunications this means wireless technologies. In the case of energy, it means renewables.

Bloomberg identified the leading growth areas as wind energy in China and rooftop solar in Europe. Global investment in renewable energy is happening at a much higher rate than many Canadians might realize. Bloomberg reports that asset finance rose 19% to $128 billion in 2010, venture capital investment increased 59% to $2.4 billion, and public
market investment gained 23% to $15.4 billion.

Globally, Canada ranked sixth on financial new investment in renewables, behind China, Germany, the US, Italy and Brazil but ahead of Spain, France, India, and the Czech Republic in the top ten. Non-hydro renewable power capacity reached 8% of total world electricity capacity in 2010, up from 7% in 2009. Non-hydro renewables accounted for 60GW of capacity added worldwide in 2010, or 34% of the total, compared to 92GW for conventional thermal (coal, gas and oil), 5GW for nuclear, and 24GW for hydroelectric including pumped storage.

Bloomberg notes that “The tipping point where renewables becomes the predominant energy option now appears closer than it did just a few years back.”

The report, which provides extensive data on global investment in all forms of renewables, can be found at http://www.unep.org/Renewable_Energy_Investment/

Registration, free, may be required.

Corporate Renewable Energy Index

Bloomberg New Energy Finance & Vestas Wind Systems A/S have developed and published a Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index, providing information on the renewable energy performance of the world’s top 1000 corporations by market capitalization.

The report shows that more than 17% of the top 1000 corporations made some renewable energy purchases in 2010. Topping the list are Kohl’s corporation (a US department store chain) and Whole Foods Market, both with 100% of their electricity purchases from renewable sources, and Toronto-Dominion Bank, with 94%.  Other household names in Canada with significant renewable energy purchases include Bank of Montreal with 63%, Starbucks with 58%, Johnson and Johnson with 38%. Intel tops the list in terms of absolute amount of renewable energy purchased in 2010.

The Index focuses on electricity but provides a framework to which other biofuel purchases could be added in the future. Vestas Wind Systems is a Danish company that is currently reported to be the largest manufacturer of wind turbines in the world.

The report is available at www.bnef.com/WhitePapers/download/42

Jail for Polluters

Courts in the United States are getting tough on those convicted of environmental offences. In Fiscal Year 2010, the E.P.A.’s Criminal Enforcement Program achieved an 88% conviction rate with 198 nindividuals either pleading or being found guilty.  Individual criminal defendants were sentenced to a total of 72 years of jail-time. Of 289 cases prosecuted, 251 (87%) included charges against at least one individual defendant, as opposed to a business or corporation. The US Environmental Protection Agency states that “The charging of individuals, where warranted by the evidence, is important, because the possibility of being sentenced to jail for an environmental crime provides significant deterrent effect.”

In the last three weeks alone, three people have been sentenced to jail terms for their role in environmental offences:

  • The Chief Engineer of a ship was sentenced to six months in prison followed by two years supervised release for obstructing a Coast Guard inspection of a bypass hose that allowed the dumping of waste oil overboard, circumventing pollution prevention equipment required by law.
  • The Environmental, Health & Safety Manager of a major beverage bottling company was sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to do 100 hours of community service related to the environment and to give at least four talks to at least 100 other environmental managers explaining the circumstances leading to his incarceration. He had been convicted of falsifying reports to the municipality of the concentration of wastewater discharges from the plant where he worked.
  • The former owner and operator of a building in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Act’s asbestos work practice standards for his role as building owner and overseer of the work during the renovation of more than 10 floors of the building. He pleaded guilty to failing to remove all regulated material containing asbestos from the building before beginning the renovation project.

Announcements of the incarcerations, including the names of individuals and companies involved, are provided by the US Department of Justice at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/criminal/

A summary of 2010 criminal enforcement results is provided at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/reports/endofyear/eoy2010/criminal/index.html

Companies and climate controversy

Most companies and industry organizations, especially those whose brands appear on consumer products, avoid controversial issues apparently because they do not want to alienate customers or attract consumer boycotts and the risk of mayhem at annual meetings. A few, however, seem to revel in controversial issues. GallonDaily is puzzled as to their motivation, unless they believe that secrets will be kept or that ultimately the public will not care.

Greenpeace in the United States has just published a report on funding of the work of Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist who is a climate change denier and, more recently, a defender of the safety of mercury emissions from coal fired power plants.

According to Greenpeace, Soon’s attacks on climate science have been funded over the last sixteen years by

  • Electric Power Research Institute
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • Mobil Foundation
  • Texaco Foundation
  • ExxonMobil Foundation
  • Charles G. Koch Foundation (Koch Industries Inc. has been labelled by Forbes magazine as the second largest privately-held company in the US and is involved in petroleum, chemicals, energy, pulp and paper, and ranching, among others)
  • Southern Company (an electric power utility)

The Greenpeace report also points out that Prof. Soon apparently describes himself as “a natural scientist at Harvard, [is] an expert on mercury and public health issues” though, according to Greenpeace, he “has no affiliation with Harvard University except sharing a building with Harvard students and staff on Harvard’s campus”.

Companies are allowed to take whatever position they wish on public policy issues, provided, for public companies, that their actions are in the interests of providing a return on investment to their shareholders. We wonder, however, why some of the above would jeopardize their reputations by funding activity that is so much in conflict with mainstream science.

The Greenpeace report Dr. Willie Soon: a Career Fueled by Koch, Big Oil and Coal is available through links in the announcement at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/news-and-blogs/campaign-blog/dr-willie-soon-a-career-fueled-by-koch-big-oi/blog/35482/

Canadian Biodiesel Mandate Imposed

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent announced last week that the 2% requirement (mandate) for biodiesel in diesel and home heating fuel will take effect July 1st 2011. The requirement is for an average of 2% biodiesel content over the reporting period. While future reporting periods will be a calendar year, the first period is 18 months ending on December 31st 2012. Newfoundland and Labrador is exempt and the other maritime provinces plus Quebec south of 60 degrees N have been given an exemption from the first reporting period.

This policy issue was addressed in Gallon Environment Letter volume 15 number 11 on 23 February 2011 with a response from the Minister’s office in the subsequent issue on 12 March 2011. At that time the Minister’s spokesperson stated that “The July 1 start date for the 2 per cent biodiesel requirement is a proposed date.”

For a detailed description of the regulation, visit http://www.ec.gc.ca/energie-energy/default.asp?lang=en&n=E15C82E3-1

Ottawa Senior Staff Shuffle

On Thursday Prime Minister Harper announced a few changes in the senior ranks of the federal government. Changes in areas directly involving Sustainable Development include the following:

Andrea Lyon moves from Associate Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, to Associate Deputy Minister, Environment Canada. She has been with the federal government since 1993 and has no previous experience in the environmental area. She succeeds Bob Hamilton in the Associate DM Post. Hamilton had held the position since January 2009 but was moved to Senior Associate Secretary of the Treasury Board, effective March 7, 2011.

Claude Carrière moves from Foreign and Defence Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister and Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet to Associate Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. He has been with the federal government since 1980 working primarily on trade matters, was Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade, Economic and Environmental Policy Branch, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in 2003-2004, and was Associate Deputy Minister, Natural Resources Canada in 2008.

George Da Pont, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, becomes President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Carole Swan, currently President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is retiring. Da Pont is a historian who has held senior management positions with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and who has been Executive Vice-President of CFIA since June 2010.

Mary Komarynsky moves from Assistant Deputy Minister, Programs Group, Transport Canada, to Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. She was Director General, National Programs, Environment Canada from 1998 to 2000 and a senior official working on financial programs for Agriculture Canada from 2001 to 2005.

The role of Associate Deputy Ministers in the Government of Canada is not well defined. They are usually appointed to assist the Deputy Minister in specific policy areas.

The entire announcement can be viewed at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?category=1&featureId=6&pageId=26&id=4182