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Canada's Supreme Court Rules Bankrupt Fossil Fuel Companies Must Clean Up Pollution Left Behind

Energy
An orphan well site near Carstairs, Alberta, awaiting proper abandonment and reclamation. Government of Alberta

By Julia Conley

Green energy campaigners in Canada applauded a precedent-settiing Supreme Court ruling on Thursday which ordered the bankrupt Alberta-based oil and gas company Redwater Energy to clean up its failed wells instead of leaving the task to the public.


Observing the "polluter pays principle," the 5-2 ruling overturned two earlier decisions by lower courts which had sided with a federal law stating that insolvent companies could prioritize paying back their creditors over fulfilling their environmental obligations.

"Bankruptcy is not a license to ignore rules," Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote in the ruling, which was celebrated as one that would set a new precedent for the entire country.

"The Supreme Court of Canada has prioritized paying clean up costs before creditors when extractive companies go bankrupt. This outcome reinforces the growing understanding that polluters are responsible for their clean up obligations," said the Pembina Institute, a think tank focused on clean energy and environmental policy.

"Working families across this province, as well as all of Canada, should not have to pay for the financial and environmental liabilities left behind when companies walk away from their obligations," said Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd. "Upholding the polluter-pays principle is good news for Albertans and it's good news for Canadians."

"Today's decision reaffirms that oil companies cannot simply abandon their environmental liabilities," said Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada's senior energy strategist. "In a world tackling climate change and transitioning away from fossil fuels, oil companies' environmental liabilities are only going to grow, which is why it is vital that the polluter pays principle remains a core element of our legal framework."

The ruling was handed down in a case involving Alberta-based oil and gas firm Redwater Energy, which went bankrupt in 2015. With the company owing $5 million to its creditor, the accounting firm which took on the bankruptcy case aimed to pay the debt by selling off Redwater's profitable oil wells and leaving its failed wells for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and a non-profit organization to clean up the sites.

The AER is already facing a backlog of 3,000 oil wells to clean up, which may take a generation to get through, according to the Star Calgary.

While applauding the new standard set by the Supreme Court, campaigners also noted the limitations of the decision.

"The Supreme Court's decision does not alleviate broader challenges posed by insolvent operations," the Pembina Institute said. "While the Supreme Court's decision ensures bankrupt companies' remaining assets first go to clean up, those assets are often insufficient to cover full costs."

"Alberta Liberals believe more must be done to address the province's estimated $260 billion in cleanup liabilities," said David Khan, leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. "We have to adopt proactive measures against worst case scenarios."

"It's time to take Alberta taxpayers off the hook," added Khan. "It's time industry steps up to shoulder more of the financial responsibility."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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Insects like bees, butterflies and even certain species of beetle and ant incidentally pollinate our crops when they collect protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar. Rolf Dietrich Brecher / CC BY 2.0

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