Pipeline Approved to Bring Tar Sands to Montreal and New England's Doorstep
The National Energy Board of Canada approved this week a proposal by pipeline giant Enbridge to reverse and increase the flow of crude oil, including tar sands oil, in its pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec—for the first time directly connecting Alberta’s tar sands to Montreal. This means that tar sands oil—or “diluted bitumen”—can come to Montreal, where the Portland-Montreal Pipeline is then an obvious route for the oil industry to access an export port to send tar sands to the world market.
Citizens, conservation groups, outdoor recreational interests and elected officials in Maine expressed alarm at the decision and called on Maine’s elected officials to ensure the U.S. State Department requires a new Presidential Permit review before tar sands could ever flow through Maine.
“Today’s decision brings toxic tar sands oil right to New England’s doorstep, and one step away from flowing south through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This decision should put Maine on high alert for the threat of tar sands transportation through our state. That would be unacceptable. Now is the time for the U.S. State Department to commit to an environmental review of any tar sands project in our state.”
The Portland-Montreal pipeline passes along and under the Androscoggin River, crosses the Crooked River six times throughout its watershed, passes alongside Sebago Lake and under a cove of the lake itself, and ends on Casco Bay in South Portland.
In 2013, South Portland passed a temporary moratorium on tar sands export infrastructure, and the towns and citizens of Casco, Harrison, Otisfield, Portland, Raymond and Waterford all passed resolutions expressing serious concern with or downright opposition to tar sands oil flowing through the pipeline in their towns.
“Last year Casco passed a resolution of opposition because of threats to our waters, recreation, and local economy,” said Mary Fernandez, chair of the Casco Selectboard. “We don’t want to end up like Mayflower, Arkansas or Kalamazoo, Michigan. We called on our federal delegation to help us, and that’s all the more important now.”
"Tar sands pose the most significant threat to Sebago Lake that I've seen in my 34 years of fishing on the lake,” said Eliot H. Stanley, Board Member for Conservation, Sebago Lake Anglers Association. “The fact is that a tar sands pipeline spill into the Sebago-Crooked River watershed would devastate the lake, its fisheries, and southern Maine's clean drinking water supply. We cannot permit another Kalamazoo River catastrophe. This irresponsible action by the Canadian Energy Board poses a threat to all Maine citizens and public officials."
“We’ve been expecting today’s news, and it only redoubles our commitment to keep tar sands out of Maine by preventing it from being shipped out of Casco Bay. For our coast, our water and our climate, we simply will not allow tar sands to flow through our beautiful state,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.
In 2013, in response to pressure from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congressman Mike Michaud, and others, the U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction over interstate oil pipelines, officially told the Portland Pipe Line Corporation that it should notify the State Department about plans to reverse its own pipeline to carry tar sands. However, the agency has not yet announced whether it would require a new Presidential Permit or any environmental review for a tar sands reversal of the Maine pipeline
"Maine people are counting on the Obama Administration, with the support of Maine's Congressional delegation, to require a new Presidential Permit process and an objective environmental review of the risks posed by pumping dirty tar sands oil through our communities, rivers, lakes and bays, including Sebago Lake and Casco Bay," said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director.
Hundreds of Maine citizens have written to or called Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, urging them to take a firm public stand for a Presidential Permit and environmental review.
“As Mainers, we have to do everything we can to protect Sebago Lake, our largest public water supply, and its surrounding wetlands,” said Bob Klotz of 350 Maine. “All we have to do is look to the Kalamazoo River spill that occurred in 2010 and its 40 miles of still-contaminated waterways to know this is a disaster we can’t allow to happen here in Maine.”
Also last year, citizens in South Portland brought forward a citizen-initiated ordinance to protect the city from construction of a tar sands export terminal, including the construction of smokestacks on the waterfront required to burn off toxic gases emitted when loading tar sands onto tankers. When the ordinance fell just short of passage, the South Portland City Council adopted a six-month moratorium on any tar sands project in the city in order to provide time for drafting a new ordinance with the same purpose.
“Considering today’s decision, I’m particularly relieved that our city has established a moratorium on a tar sands project here,” said Eve Raimon, a citizen leader with Protect South Portland. “This makes the work of drafting and adopting a permanent ordinance to restrict a tar sands export terminal on our waterfront all the more essential and urgent.”
In its public statements over the past two years, the Portland Pipe Line Company has vacillated multiple times between denial and enthusiasm for a tar sands project for Maine. After a stint of denials of an active project last fall, oil companies ran ads in South Portland newspapers this week promoting Canadian “oil sands.”
Citizens and public interest organizations in Quebec and Ontario strongly oppose sending tar sands through their communities and across their watersheds.
In 2010, about 14,000 citizens from the New England region sent comments to the National Energy Board opposing the tar sands reversal of Line 9. Included were approximately 2,000 from Maine.
“After today’s disappointing news from Canada, Maine needs to send a strong, clear message that we will not be next,” said Voorhees. “We again call on our Congressional delegation to lead and defend Maine’s interests.”
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.