Lower Churchill

Hydroelectric in Labrador, Solar in BC & the Overseas Conduct of Canadian Mining Firms

On today’s show, we talk to a BC First Nation that’s leading the way in energy self-sufficiency. They tell us why they built one of the largest solar arrays in the country, and how they did it. We also investigate the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador. Proponents tout it as a source of carbon-free power for generations to come, but is it really green? Plus, we look into the conduct of Canadian mining companies operating overseas. Some companies’ environmental and human rights records are drawing the ire of NGOs. We investigate efforts to hold them responsible.

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Churchill Falls, fourty years after having its water diverted by the Upper Churchill hydroelectric project. Photo by Infernocow.

Overseas Conduct of Canadian Mining Companies

Globally, Canada is a giant in the mining industry. But our miners don’t just dig up minerals here, they head overseas in the search of bigger finds and bigger profits. However, the environmental, human rights and labour laws in many countries are lacking by Canadian standards. And at the moment, Canadian companies can get away with behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable back home. Environmental and human rights groups aren’t impressed, and they’re pushing for change. Today we investigate efforts to improve the accountability of mining companies operating overseas.

Solar Powered First Nation in BC

All across Canada, communities are working to improve their sustainability. Some are expanding their public transit systems, others are retrofitting public buildings to increase energy efficiency. But one town has really set the bar high. The T’Sou-ke Nation on the southern tip of Vancouver Island has built such extensive photovoltaic and solar heating systems that they’re now largely self-sufficient. For much of the year, they actually sell power back to the grid. Their success has been drawing attention, and other communities are hoping to follow suit. For more on the story, we talk to Chief Gordon Planes and project manager Andrew Moore.

Lower Churchill Hydro Project in Labrador

One of the few environmental issues that made it onto the table in this spring’s federal election was a proposal for a hydroelectricity project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador. And although it does promise huge amounts of carbon-free electricity, much of it for export, some people in Labrador are pretty concerned about the environmental impacts of such a megaproject.

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Hydroelectric Controversy in Labrador and the Arctic Carbon Bomb

This week on Terra Informa correspondent David Kaczan investigates the proposal for a hydroelectric project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador. Rebekah Rooney talks with Dr. Craig Tweedie from the University of Texas at el Paso about what he calls the arctic’s Carbon Bomb. And Brett Tegard looks into composting human waste using fungi. But as always to start off the show we have this week’s news headlines with Tasneem Karbani and Steve Andersen.

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Mycena leaiana in Tasmania, Australia. Photo by JJ Harrison.

News Headlines

2,4-D Ban in Quebec

In Quebec, a legal case between the province and Dow AgroSciences has been settled. Dow sought 2 million dollars in damages stemming from the province’s 2006 ban on the cosmetic use of the company’s week killer 2,4-D. In the settlement, Quebec acknowledged that the chemical is safe, provided it is used as directed and Dow agreed to drop its claim for monetary damages. Quebec does not plan to change its legislation, saying that the chemical is unnecessary. (Globe & Mail, Manitoba Co-operator)

New TTC Trains

The Toronto Transit Commission launched its new line of subway trains last week, dubbing them the Toronto Rocket. They’re designed to be faster and more reliable while carrying 10% more passengers than the current system. The new trains are part of an expansion to the subway system that will extend it 8 km to the York Region. The vehicles were built in Thunder Bay by Bombardier and begin regular service in June. (CBC, CTV Toronto)

NDP Shadow Cabinet

Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan is no longer critic for the environment in the new cabinet announced by Jack Layton. Duncan’s new post will be as the official opposition critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Halifax MP Megan Leslie, the former health critic, is the new environment critic taking over from Duncan. She will be facing off against Environment Minister Peter Kent on environmental issues. (CBC, Globe & Mail, First perspective, INews 880)

Enbridge Pipeline

Senior bureaucrats have told the federal government that the export capacity is one that Canadian industry does not need. The critique was part of a federal environmental evaluation from Natural Resources Canda. The document also noted the rising public opposition to Enbridge’s proposed project and concerns about potential oil spills. The documents were released last week after an Access to Information request from the Toronto-based research group Environmental Defense. ( Vancouver Sun, The Province, Financial Post)

Langley Decision

A small conservation group and one of its members that sought to protect a fish habitat witnessed a victory last week as the BC Supreme Court dismissed a mulit-million dollar damage claim against them. The Glen Valley Watersheds Society and two individuals had been sued after speaking out about concerns over a landfill application in Aldergrove. The concern was that the landfill would have a negative impact on the fish-bearing streams nearby. The total claim from the landowner against the parties was $13 million. Justice Catherine Bruce of the BC Supreme Court concluded that the claimant had greatly exaggerated the statements made by the respondents and fabricated other allegations. ( Vancouver Sun, BC local News )

Proposed Hydroelectric Project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador

One of the few environmental issues on the table in the recent federal election was a proposal for a hydroelectricity project on the Lower Churchill River, in Labrador. And although it does promise huge amounts of carbon free electricity, much of it for export, some people in Labrador are pretty concerned about the environmental impacts of such a megaproject. Correspondents David Kaczan and Dana Harper investigate.

The Arctic’s Carbon Bomb

Evidence of climate change is mounting from across the globe, but nowhere is it more evident than around the poles.  Permafrost in the Tundra is an important carbon store, but unfortunately, once it melts it may release that carbon into the atmosphere triggering a positive feedback loop.  Dr. Craig Tweedie from the University of Texas at el Paso, calls this the arctic’s Carbon Bomb!  He studies changes to Tundra vegetation and the interactions between plants and animals in the Arctic.  Last week he gave a talk on his research at the University of Alberta, where Terra Informa correspondent Rebecca Rooney caught up with him.

Composting Human Waste Using Fungi

When most people think of natural garbage disposal, they think of composting. Composting works exceedingly well in the natural world; organic material can be quickly broken down and recycled back into the soil. But when human waste is too toxic to be composted, the cleanup can be long and difficult. Today, Brett Tegart takes a look at the development of a new solution to repairing environmental damage: using mushrooms to eliminate pollution.