By Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail, June 1, 2012
For six years, Cynthia Gilmour, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, led a research team that annually poured a teaspoon of mercury isotope, diluted in water, into a small, remote lake in Northwestern Ontario.
The international project was being conducted in the federally funded Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a unique outdoor laboratory for ecosystem research consisting of 58 lakes and their drainage areas.
Dr. Gilmour and her colleagues from the United States and Canada wanted to determine the environmental impacts of new deposits of mercury – a powerful brain toxin – into a lake that already had high background levels. The ELA was the one place in the world where they could do that.
The centre has hosted a number of groundbreaking research projects over its 55 years, including major advances in the understanding of lake acidification and eutrophication – the destruction of a body of water through the addition of nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates.
Now, as part of its spending restraint, the Harper government has announced that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will stop funding the Experimental Lakes Area and close the world-renowned research centre by next April if a new operator cannot be found.
Supporters from Canada and across the world are signing an online petition and writing letters urging the government to reverse that decision, arguing the centre is irreplaceable.
Former top researchers at the centre say the decision is emblematic of the government’s anti-science approach to environmental policy and its emphasis on resource development with little regard for impacts on the ecosystem unless they affect commercially important fish stocks.
“I think they are uninterested in the environment and scientific research into the environment,” said John Rudd, who served as chief scientist at ELA and now consults for private labs. “They don’t want to see things that might get in the way of promoting industry.”...
Its supporters say the research in real-world conditions actually saves money for governments and industry by avoiding costly mistakes that result from ineffectual policy and wrong-headed regulation.
David Schindler, the University of Alberta biologist who has made waves with his research into the impact of the oil sands, has also been affiliated with the ELA, doing work on eutrophication. After studying the effect of both phosphates and nitrates on algae production, he advised the City of Winnipeg not to undertake an expensive effort to remove nitrates from sewage because the benefit would be negligible.
In the mercury-related research, scientists found that newly introduced mercury enters the food chain far more quickly than existing sources and that lakes and aquatic life recover quickly when deposits stop.
Dr. Gilmour said the research – primarily funded by U.S. institutions – helped persuade American regulators to force utilities to remove the element from the emissions of coal-fired power plants, with the expectation the move would save tens of billions of dollars annually in health costs associated with mercury poisoning. Canadian regulators have yet to respond.
In a letter written last week, Dr. Gilmour asked Mr. Ashfield (Minister of Fisheries) to reconsider the decision to close the centre.
“By shutting ELA you remove a critical tool for finding the most reasonable and cost-effective solutions to national and international environmental issues,” she wrote. “The small federal investment in the research station has been returned thousands of times over in public and ecosystem health.”
Now that four former ministers of Fisheries, two from Progressive Conservative governments and two from former Liberal governments have publicly criticised the government for its budget cutting approach to the fisheries, we find that one of the specific research facilities that has provided outstanding and critical research, in co-operation with the United States, is being axed by the "environmentally challenged" if not completely "tone deaf" to science of any kind, Harper government.
Preferring to keep all doors to "industrial promotion" open, for this government, means closing the doors of such facilities that might provide empirical data directing future developments, for both the public and the private sectors. Once again, there is no "grey" area in the "mind" of this government. (And it may be a stretch to include the word, "mind" in the same sentence with this "government." That may be oxymoronic!)
We are learning that activists from a variety of perspectives are planning public protests to block, stall, or even reverse the passage of the "fruit-cake" budget bill. I call it that because the government seems to have decided that by including so many non-budget, or tangentially budget related at best, items in the budget, they could get away with many deeply divisive political moves that would, if debated on their own, in single issue bills, would cause so much political uproar, the government would still be reeling from the fall-out in three years when the election rolls around.
So, on its merits, the ELA deserves to be saved from this government's axe.
And on the methods being used to camouflage the various and nefarious cuts, in the ostensible name of "austerity" but really in the name of the neo-con ideology, this government must be opposed by all legitimate means available to all citizens and political parties alike.
An Open Letter to the Stephen Harper:
By TOM SIDDON, DAVID ANDERSON, JOHN FRASER AND HERB DHALIWAL
(all former ministers of the Fisheries)
From Globe and Mail, June 1, 2012
Dear Prime Minister Harper:
As privy councillors from British Columbia who have served as ministers of Fisheries and Oceans in past federal governments, we wish to inform you of our serious concern regarding the content of Bill C-38 and the process being used to bring it into force.
We have had lengthy and varied political experience and collectively have served in cabinet in Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments alike. We believe we have a fair understanding of the views of Canadians. Moreover, we believe there is genuine public concern over the perceived threat this legislation poses to the health of Canada’s environment and in particular to the well-being of its fisheries resources. We are especially alarmed about any possible diminution of the statutory protection of fish habitat, which we feel could result if the provisions of Bill C-38 are brought into force. Migratory salmon and steelhead are icons of our home province. Our experience convinces us that their continued survival would be endangered without adequate federal regulation and enforcement, particularly in the area of habitat protection.