Ontario government publishes ministers’ mandate letters

When a new provincial Cabinet is appointed the Premier provides each minister with a document that is now referred to as a “mandate letter”. Essentially it is a list of expectations that the premier has for the new minister. Previously these mandate letters were kept confidential but Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has broken with tradition and published these letters.

It is interesting to note the multitude of tasks the Premier has given to Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray. In summary:

  • Building on, and supporting, the most current climate change science, leading the development of a new long term climate change strategy for Ontario, including an action plan to help the government achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020. The strategy is to be completed in 2015.
  • Greenhouse gas impact analyses for significant policies, legislation and regulations and adaptation considerations for public infrastructure investments.
  • Working with other provinces and territories on the development of a Canadian Energy Strategy that includes co-ordinated efforts to reduce GHG emissions.
  • Developing new alternative fuel rules in 2014 to help big, energy-intensive industries reduce their GHG emissions.
  • Re-introducing a strengthened Great Lakes Protection Act.
  • Negotiating the renewal of, and implementing, the Canada-Ontario Agreement respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. This will include developing a nutrient target by 2016 to address algal blooms in the Great Lakes and bringing forward recommendations to meet that target.
  • Working with Great Lakes states to ensure the sustainability of the Great Lakes. This will include fully implementing the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement by regulating intra-basin transfers.
  • Developing and implementing improved approaches to waste diversion. Building on the release of the Waste Reduction Strategy and working with industry, municipalities and other stakeholders toward the objective of re-introducing waste reduction legislation. The goal is to ensure the ongoing sustainability and appropriate governance of waste diversion programs. This is critical to protecting the environment, recovering economic value in the waste stream and reaping GHG reduction benefits by using resources more efficiently.
  • Improving drinking water on First Nations’ reserves, with a focus on remote communities: the number of First Nation reserves without access to safe drinking water is unacceptable. We will develop measurable, achievable targets to monitor progress.
  • Supporting the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in efforts to strengthen pollinator health.
  • Working with business, industry and partner ministers to provide Ontarians with better information about chemicals linked with cancer.
  • Working with industry to ensure that products on Ontario store shelves such as children’s products are as safe as those in the US and the European Union.
  • Continuing to work on decisions relating to environmental assessments associated with projects in the Ring of Fire region. You will do so by working with the ministers of Northern Development and Mines, Aboriginal Affairs, and Natural Resources and Forestry. This will include ensuring that the regional and cumulative impacts of proposed development are considered. [Note that this item comes under the heading “Supporting the Development of the Ring of Fire” rather than “Completing full and complete environmental assessments of the Ring of Fire”. Note that in the Ontario context the Ring of Fire is an area of far Northern Ontario which is projected to be rich in valuable minerals, including chromium, copper, zinc, nickel, platinum, vanadium and gold.]
  • Reviewing the legislative framework to ensure there is a comprehensive approach to holding polluters responsible for decisions that affect the environment. Your ministry will put greater emphasis on prevention and on the “polluter pays” principle, focusing initially on contaminated sites.

It will be interesting to see how much attention environmental issues not included in this mandate letter, such as air pollution, receive from this government.

The complete mandate letter for the Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is available at https://www.ontario.ca/government/2014-mandate-letter-environment-and-climate-change.

SLAPP lawsuits may backfire on a company’s reputation

GallonLetter and GallonDaily have written before about SLAPP suits. A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is a suit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. But SLAPP suits do not always work as Shell found out this week. Shell may well be in a worse public opinion situation now than it would have been had it not initiated a suit against Natural Resources Defense Council and a number of other environmental groups.

In brief, Shell asked the court to pre-emptively validate the federal Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement’s approval of the company’s Alaskan Arctic oil spill plans against any future legal challenge by the environmental groups. This was widely interpreted as an initiative intended to quash dissent against Shell’s plans for Arctic drilling.

The court found this to be a “novel litigation strategy, whereby the beneficiary of agency action seeks to confirm its lawfulness by suing those who it believes are likely to challenge it” and dismissed the case as unconstitutional. Now the environmental groups are trumpeting the court decision as a victory against Shell’s Alaskan Arctic drilling program and are having a field day at Shell’s expense in the US media.

SLAPP suits rarely succeed in the courts, particularly in US courts, and the consequences of a loss can be significant, even though Shell’s lawyer is reported to have said that the Company was prepared for any outcome of the suit. Shell had originally hoped to start drilling in the Arctic in the Summer of 2012, following approval of its plans by the US Department of the Interior. Now it may well be spending more time in court fighting legal challenges brought be the same groups against which it launched its SLAPP suit. In addition, it has almost certainly suffered a blow to its reputation, at least amongst those members of the public who agree with the environmental groups that Shell’s Arctic drilling plans are risky.

NRDC’s account of the court’s decision, with more details included. can be found at http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/141112b.asp

US agency urges strengthening of pesticide residue monitoring programs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that reports directly to Congress, has published a report that is highly critical of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture which monitor pesticides in food. The report states:

  • monitoring and enforcing pesticide residue tolerances associated with thousands of pesticides currently in use is a formidable task.
  • FDA tests for the majority of pesticides that have established tolerances, but the agency does not disclose the pesticides for which it does not test or the potential effect that not testing could have on its detection of violations.
  • FDA does not test for several commonly used pesticides, including glyphosate, or disclose the potential effects of not testing for these pesticides.
  • though USDA has recently increased the scope of its testing, the agency does not disclose that it does not test for specific pesticides that have tolerances for animal products or their feed or the potential effect of not testing for these pesticides.
  • users of the agencies’ annual reports may not have accurate information and may misinterpret the results of the programs.
  • the annual pesticide monitoring reports do not reliably reflect the rate at which pesticide violations occur in the U.S. food supply.

The GAO recommends:

  • design and implementation of a statistically valid sampling methodology that would gather nationally representative pesticide residue incidence and level data for both domestically produced and imported foods.
  • identification of any types of domestic and imported foods that are at high risk for pesticide residue tolerance violations.
  • disclosure of all pesticides with EPA-established tolerances which the agency did not test for in its National Residue Program and the potential effect of not testing for those pesticides.
  • providing more complete information on the sampling methodology used, such as how the agency identifies and selects states, food distribution centers, and commodities for pesticide residue testing.
  • reporting on the extent to which the survey covers commodities in the U.S. food supply and any limitations associated with its survey.

FDA and USDA have agreed with many but not all of the recommendations of the GAO.

A summary and the full report are available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-38

Poll indicates that US consumers seek environmentally friendly and socially-responsible food

According to a US public opinion poll published this summer by Consumer Reports® National Research Center:

  • two-thirds of Americans are checking to see if their food is locally produced.
  • the majority of consumers (59%) are also checking to see if their food is natural, though this term is not regulated and may mislead many consumers into thinking it means GMO free.
  • the majority of consumers think that the natural or organic label on packaged and processed foods means that no pesticides, artificial ingredients or chemicals, or genetically modified ingredients were used; an even greater amount of consumers feel that this labeling should indicate this.
  • US consumers want workers that produced their food to be treated fairly and most are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
  • while only half of consumers think a humanely raised claim currently means that the animals were raised without cages, a clear majority of consumers (75%) think these claims should mean this.
  • 92% of consumers demand that the government require that genetically engineered salmon be labeled as such.
  • for the overwhelming majority of consumers very important or important objectives include supporting local farmers (92% of consumers), protecting the environment from chemicals (89%), fair conditions for workers (86%), reducing exposure to pesticides (87%), good living conditions for animals (80%), and reducing antibiotic use in food (78%). Avoiding GMOs (72% of consumers) and artificial ingredients (69%) are also crucial objectives for many consumers.

The study should make clear to industry that there are lots of votes for politicians to be had in mandating food labelling. The non-profit Consumer Reports has launched campaigns to have the US government ban use of the word ‘natural’ on foods and to require labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

The full public opinion research report, containing much more data about US attitudes towards food, can be found at http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/ConsumerReportsFoodLabelingSurveyJune2014.pdf

GallonDaily is not aware of any similar recent Canadian opinion research that is currently publicly available.

Conservation impact investments: a proven economic growth opportunity

A very interesting recent report studies the emerging field of conservation impact investments. Defined by the authors as investments designed to return capital or earn a profit while also driving a measurable positive impact on natural resources and ecosystems, such private sector investments totalled more than $1.9 billion from 2009 through 2013, growing at an average rate of 26% during the period. Survey research found that private investors expect to deploy $1.5 billion of already-raised capital and to raise and invest an additional $4.1 billion from 2014 to 2018.

Conservation impact investments cover such areas as sustainable food and fibre production projects, habitat conservation, and water quantity and quality conservation. The research found the most rapid growth in sustainable agriculture which grew globally from grew more than 600% from 2004-2008 to 2009-2013, increasing from $67 million to $472 million. Sustainable forestry and timber grew much less rapidly, from $504 million to $710 million across the same period.

Among other findings of the research:

  • The large majority of the private investments reported were made in projects located in the United States and Canada ($1.6 billion, 82%).
  • Although conservation objectives appear to be the leading reason for investing in this sector,
    most investors are also satisfied with financial performance.
  • Private equity conservation impact investments have an average target of 10-14.9% internal rate of return.
  • The biggest challenge most survey respondents identified was the shortage of deals with the appropriate risk/return profiles. Most investors stated that there is no shortage of capital for good conservation deals.
  • Another key challenge is the shortage of management teams with experience in the sector.

Including several case studies, this 81 page report provides some excellent analysis for everyone interested in private sector investment in conservation. It can be found through a link on The Nature Conservancy’s web page at http://www.naturevesttnc.org/Reports/info.html. Authors of the report are from EKO Asset Management Partners and The Nature Conservancy, a US charitable environmental organization, with assistance from a team of advisors.

Packaging innovation has a long way to go to address waste concerns

The 2014 edition of Pack Expo is running in Chicago until Wednesday. Billed as the world’s largest packaging show, and very credibly qualifying for that label based on GallonDaily’s experience, the show is hosted by PMMI The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies and attracts an estimated 65,000 people over four days. The show is absolutely huge, featuring everything from packaging concepts and machinery to materials and labels (no, Toronto, your beloved Deco Labels, owned by the Ford family, is not here!).

It is challenging but not impossible to find environmental concepts at PackExpo. Among those which have caught GallonDaily’s attention:

  • energy and water use efficiency as a feature of packaging equipment.
  • even more robotics than at previous packaging shows we have attended, with robots for everything from forming, filling, boxing, and palletizing packages.
  • packaging robots capable of using different size containers depending on the size of goods being shipped, for example for consumer internet or mail orders, with the robot efficiently organizing the different size packages on the pallet.
  • considerable expansion in promotion of polypropylene for packages, including a new clear polypropylene material that visually closely resembles clear polystyrene or PET and can be used for all applications appropriate for those resins.
  • wax-free water resistant cartons.
  • bag in box systems
  • self-supporting lightweight plastic film containers
  • ever increasing types of multimaterial films, some with as many as 9 layers, adaptable to every conceivable application and set of properties including microwaveable, oven safe, hot liquid uses, shelf stability, freezer stable, and control of gas permeability.
  • increased lightweighting of packaging through better design and new material use, often without regard ton the recyclability of the end of life package.
  • packaging transportation efficiency, for example through use of square rather than round bottles.
  • metering dispensers incorporated into plastic packages so as to control the amount of product dispensed.
  • more reusable containers for food and industrial applications.
  • increasing availability of third party environmental, safety, and performance certifications.

A common thread throughout much of the packaging innovation on show is the multitude of problems likely to be caused to recycling system operators, especially in Canada where high-tech optical sorting systems for recyclable material handling are rare.

A GallonDaily special report directly from the floor of PackExpo 2014.