EPA limits states and tribes’ ability to protest pipelines and other energy projects

The move changes the way the Clean Water Act has been applied for half a century.

An oil pipeline stretches across the landscape outside Prudhoe Bay in North Slope Borough, Alaska. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule Monday curtailing the rights of states, tribes and the public to object to federal permits for energy projects and other activities that could pollute waterways across the country.

The move, part of the Trump administration’s push to weaken environmental rules it sees as standing in the way of new development, upends how the United States applied a section of the Clean Water Act for nearly a half century. The energy industry hailed the change as a way to speed up pipelines and other projects, while environmentalists warned it could undercut state and tribal efforts to safeguard rivers and drinking water.

The new rule would set a one-year deadline for states and tribes to certify or reject proposed projects — including pipelines, hydroelectric dams and industrial plants — that could discharge pollution into area waterways. It also would limit any reviews to include only water quality impacts, based on a more narrow definition the Trump administration finalized last year.

In a call with reporters Monday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that some states had abused the law in the past, using long delays to trap energy-related projects “in a bureaucratic Groundhog Day.” The change would give states “more than enough time” to scrutinize proposed projects, while preventing them from holding them “hostage” for lengthy periods, he said.

“Our system of republican democracy does not allow for one state to dictate standards or decisions for the entire nation,” Wheeler said.

The change stems from an executive order President Trump issued in April 2019, in which he instructed federal agencies to do everything possible to pave the way for energy infrastructure. “The president is very happy about this,” Wheeler said, as he congratulated the agency’s staff for its work on the rule.

Robert Irvin, president of the environmental group American Rivers, said in an interview that the shift would undercut the powers Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, at which point it “gave states the authority to do more than the federal government is doing in order to clean up our rivers and have fishable, swimmable waters.”

“This administration is happy to put the responsibility for dealing with the pandemic on the states, but they’re far too quick to strip states of authority when they’re trying to protect rivers and clean water,” Irvin said.

Some companies, however, have complained that certain states have used Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to unnecessarily delay key energy infrastructure projects, including pipelines, coal terminals and hydroelectric dams.

 

The New York City skyline is seen from Middletown, N.J., where a pipeline has been planned to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, out into Raritan Bay and into the ocean before reaching New York and Long Island. (Wayne Parry/AP)

They frequently cite two pipeline projects that encountered obstacles in New York state in recent years: the Constitution natural gas pipeline, which planned to ship gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale to New York before it was shelved, and the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Pipeline, which would also have brought gas from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and then onto New York City. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation just denied a permit to the NESE Pipeline last month, based on its “inability to demonstrate” how it would meet all applicable water standards. New Jersey denied its 401 water certification permit a year ago.

Another project that stalled was the Millennium Bulk Terminal, a $680 million coal export facility that Washington state rejected in September 2017.

Robin Rorick, vice president for midstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that his members support the long-standing environmental law, “though certain states have continued to go well beyond its scope for water quality certifications.”

“We hope the addition of a well-defined timeline and review process will provide certainty to operators as they develop infrastructure projects that meet state water quality standards,” Rorick said.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, said in a statement that the rule would make it easier for his state to sell coal elsewhere in the United States and overseas. “The state of Washington has hijacked this process and blocked Wyoming coal from being exported,” he said.

But Association of Clean Water Administrators Executive Director Julia Anastasio, who represents state water permit administrators in all 50 states, said in a phone interview that the rule doesn’t respect state roles in maintaining water quality and does not address a 1994 Supreme Court ruling empowering them to set “other limitations” that could ensure a project meets “any other appropriate requirement of state law.”

“It’s really not respecting the rule that states play as co-regulators,” Anastasio said.

Both Democratic attorneys general and lawmakers vowed to fight to reverse the rule. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) tweeted, “This decision is unconscionable & I’ll do everything in my power to oppose it.” And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra suggested he and others would sue the EPA, saying in a statement, “We won’t stand idly by as they rip away our authority under the law to preserve water quality.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell

Once again, the EPA is tilting the scales in favor of polluters at the expense of clean water. Today’s action is yet another move by this Admin which will harm our environment. This decision is unconscionable & I’ll do everything in my power to oppose it. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/06/01/epa-limits-states-tribes-ability-protest-pipelines-other-energy-projects/ 

EPA limits states and tribes’ ability to protest pipelines and other energy projects

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed Monday curtailing the rights of states, tribes and the public to object to federal permits for energy projects and other activities that could affect…

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Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post’s senior national affairs correspondent, covering the transformation of federal environmental policy. She is the author of “Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks” and “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives.” Eilperin has worked for The Post since 1998.Follow

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Brady Dennis  is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy.Follow

 is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy.Follow

Covid-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future

Lockdown won’t save the world from warming, but the pandemic is an opportunity to pursue a green economic recovery

 ‘In Europe, car manufacturers are pushing to loosen emissions standards.’ German chancellor Angela Merkel at Frankfurt Auto Show last year. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The air is clean and fresh, fish have reappeared in urban waterways, birds are frequenting uncut gardens, wild mammals are meandering through cities and greenhouse gas emissions will likely drop by an unprecedented 8% this year. Nature has clearly benefited from several months of dramatically reduced economic activity. From a climate crisis perspective, this drop in emissions is astonishingly close to the 7.6% yearly reduction in emissions that scientists have advised will be necessary during the next decade. And yet none of this is cause for celebration. 

The resilience of nature is temporary, and will last only as long as the lockdown is enforced. More importantly, the reduction in greenhouse gases is not the result of decarbonising the economy, but the unintended consequence of economic paralysis that has come with painful human consequences and huge costs to lives and livelihoods. This is not what addressing the climate crisis looks like. The thoughtful reduction of greenhouse gases has to be intentional not circumstantial, sustained not temporary. Above all, it must lead to improved human wellbeing, not to human or economic suffering.

There is a second inadvertent link between climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic that is perhaps less examined. The recovery packages designed and implemented by governments to rescue the ailing global economy could rise as high as $20tn over the next 18 months. The scale of this stimulus will shape the contours of the global economy over the next decade, if not longer. This is precisely the decade when climate scientists have warned global emissions will need to be cut by half in order to reach a sustainable trajectory. In the midst of the crisis wreaked by the pandemic is an opportunity: to ensure rescue packages don’t merely recover the high carbon economy of yesterday, but help us build a healthier economy that is low on carbon, high in resilience and centred on human wellbeing.

The case for rebuilding our economies in line with environmental targets has broad public support. A recent poll from Ipsos Mori shows that 71% of the global population understands that climate change is as at least as serious a crisis as Covid-19, and 65% think the former should be prioritised in the economic recovery. This is not only in industrialised countries that can more easily afford to green their economies; 81% of the citizens in India and 80% of people from Mexico were also strongly in favour of a green and healthy economic recovery.

One of the first institutions to call for this dual approach was the International Energy Agency, which will publish a report this month detailing policies that governments could adopt to chart the course of recovery while decarbonising their economies. Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund is not only advising that fiscal stimulus packages should be based on green measures, but going as far as recommending scrapping fossil fuel subsidies and taxing carbon.

A growing number of corporate leaders are also calling for government stimulus packages to have green strings attached. In the UK, the call from a group of major business leaders for the government to embrace a green recovery was answered by the prime minister’s statement that the UK’s commitment to delivering net zero emissions “remains undiminished”. In Europe, 180 business leaders, policymakers and researchers explicitly urged the EU to build the recovery package around the Green Deal. Meanwhile the Spanish government recently released a draft law banning all new coal, oil and gas projects, establishing the direction of the Covid-19 recovery effort. In Canada, more than 320 signatories representing more than 2,100 companies have signed on to support a resilient recovery.

Perhaps most surprising are the carbon-intensive industries that have confirmed they are continuing to decarbonise despite the pandemic, including BP, Shell, Daimler and Rio Tinto. Elsewhere, eight investment groups, including BNP Paribas Asset Management, DWS and Comgest Asset Management, have urged corporates to maintain their focus on decarbonisation while dealing with the consequences of the recession. The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, a group of institutional investors representing more than $4.6tn in assets under management (AUM), remains committed to an “irreversible shift to a resilient, net-zero and inclusive economy”. And BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, with $7.4 tn AUM, has pledged to punish the directors of companies that fail to manage environmental risks in 2020.

But it’s not all good news. For every corporate actor that has shown a commitment to greening the economy, there are many that haven’t adhered to these values. Some have used the crisis as an opportunity to roll back environmental commitments or push through controversial projects and laws. Plastic companies in the US have lobbied to reverse single-use plastic laws, while three states have criminalised environmental protest. In Europe, car manufacturers are pushing to loosen emissions standards; globally, airlines are lobbying to stop using 2020 as a baseline emissions year, and China has announced it will loosen environmental legislation to boost the post-coronavirus recovery.

This is the moment to raise voices everywhere and remind leaders of their chief responsibility: protecting their citizens and putting human wellbeing at the centre of the decision-making process. Some of this is already happening. Organisations representing more than 40 million health professionals from 90 countries worldwide have just published an open letter to G20 leaders and their chief medical advisers in support of a “healthy recovery” where carbon emissions would be massively reduced.

Crises are a moment of rupture and change. In the midst of the pandemic, we face a choice between recovering the carbon-intensive global economy that has set us on the path towards environmental breakdown, or accelerating the transition towards a future that prioritises the health of people and planet. Today, that future may be closer within our reach than it was at the beginning of 2020.

SOURCE

 Christiana Figueres was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, and is co-author of The Future We Choose

USA: Thinking of Buying a Bike? Get Ready for a Very Long Wait.

The United States is facing a shortage of of bicycles as anxiety over public transportation and a desire to exercise has sent the demand surging

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Some bicycle shops in Brooklyn are selling twice as many bikes as usual and drawing blocklong lines of customers. A chain of shops in Phoenix is selling three times the number of bikes it typically does. A retailer in Washington, D.C., sold all its entry-level bikes by the end of April and has fielded more preorders than ever in its 50-year history.

As the coronavirus pandemic shrinks life in major American cities — limiting pastimes and discouraging use of buses and subways — hundreds of thousands of Americans are flocking to one of the most basic forms of mobility: the bicycle.

In March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year, according to the N.P.D. Group, a market research company. Sales of commuter and fitness bikes in the same month increased 66 percent, leisure bikes jumped 121 percent, children’s bikes went up 59 percent and electric bikes rose 85 percent.

By the end of April, many stores and distributors had sold out of low-end consumer bikes. Now, the United States is facing a severe bicycle shortage as global supply chains, disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, scramble to meet the surge in demand.

“I have never seen anything remotely approaching this,” said Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Company, where sales have soared by more than 600 percent this year compared with the same period in 2019. “If you went into a store three weeks ago you could find a bike under $1,000. Right now shelves are bare.”

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times 

The spike in sales comes on the heels of stay-at-home orders that have temporarily curtailed daily life, but that may permanently transform the role of bicycles into something more essential, including a safer alternative to public transit as the nation slowly begins to reopen.

Some American cities are already planning for a lasting shift after the pandemic — a significant departure in a society that has favored cars over bikes for decades, even as European cities embraced cycling as a transportation mode as integral as New York City’s subway.

“We are absolutely confident we are going to see more bike commuting in the months ahead,” said Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s transportation commissioner.

In April, New York announced that it would temporarily open 100 miles of roads to pedestrians and cyclists — a move that may lead to permanent closures, officials say. Oakland plans to shut down about 10 percent of its streets to cars during the pandemic, while Seattle said it would permanently close 20 miles of roads.

“We are already seeing people who hadn’t biked before are trying it for the first time,’’ Ms. Trottenberg said. “We are going to see a lot more of that as the city starts to come back to life.”

The change would be a notable departure from the role bikes have tended to play in American life. For generations, riding a bike has been a symbol of relaxed summer days and a nostalgic rite-of-passage for children growing up in suburban sprawl.

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times 

More recently, road biking became a popular hobby in warm-weather cities on the West Coast, while on the other side of the country, hipsters adopted bikes as part of their against-the-grain brand of cool.

Still, relatively few Americans have used bikes as a serious alternative to cars and public transit. Today fewer than 1 percent of New Yorkers commute by bike. In Portland, which has the highest percentage of cycling commuters of any American city, only 6.3 percent of commuters ride bikes. By comparison, in Copenhagen nearly half of all trips to work and school take place on bicycles.

“The U.S. has been built around cars,” said Sarah M. Kaufman, associate director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. “The European model has tended to be more forward looking in terms of sustainability and safety, which leads them to favor bikes.”

But since the pandemic upended daily life in the United States, cycling has taken on a crucial, sanity-saving role: bikes are a way to exercise while gyms stay closed and an inexpensive means of getting around cities where more than 90 percent of riders have abandoned public transportation.

Going for a bike ride has replaced grabbing a drink on first dates and has been used to coax children outside while parents are on conference calls at home.

Outside Bicycle Habitat in Brooklyn, the line of customers waiting to buy new bikes or have old ones repaired stretches down the block nearly every day. While bike sales usually increase in warmer months, the recent flood of customers is unheard of, the owner, Charlie McCorkell, said.

On Friday morning, Aaron Richter, a 37-year-old photographer, waited to buy accessories for a bike he had just purchased online.

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times 

“I haven’t been on a bike since college,” he said. “I want the ability to get out of the whatever-block radius I’m stuck in.”

Jadciry Altamirano, 21, had taken her place at the front of the line before the store opened.

Ms. Altamirano, who was buying a bike for her mother, wanted to make sure she had the first pick of increasingly slim options: the week before, her brother visited five bike stores in a single day searching for a bike for himself in his price range, before settling for one that cost $900.

“We were left with higher-cost options,” Ms. Altamirano said of the $750 bike she ended up buying for her mother on Friday.

Ms. Altamirano, who works at a gym, and her mother, who works as a housekeeper, both plan to commute by bike rather than take the subway when they return to work.

At first, most customers were buying bikes under $1,000, industry leaders and shop owners say. By the end of April, many stores had sold out of those bikes.

“We’ve never seen a surge like this across a range of products,” said Robert Margevicius, executive vice president of Specialized, one of the largest bicycle companies in the United States. “Everybody is scrambling to get more.”

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times 

But the demand could not have come at a worse time.

Most American importers have kept limited inventory since 2018, when President Trump ordered new tariffs on goods produced in China, where some parts used on nearly all bikes sold in the United States are made.

As a result, in 2019 the number of bikes imported into the United States dropped by around 25 percent compared with 2018, according to Mr. Margevicius. In the first quarter of this year, imports were down by around 30 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

The pandemic also forced factories in Asia to shut down in January and February, stalling the production of new bikes. Many were not able to bring production back to capacity until April, even as requests from importers swelled.

Taioku Manufacturing Co., a bicycle manufacturer in China and Taiwan, has received double the orders from importers for the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to Kevin Tsu, a general manager. Still, the manufacturer can produce only 20,000 bikes a month — the same maximum production as usual.

“In China, there is still a serious shortage of labor and component parts,” he said, adding that as a result, bicycle manufacturers are two or three months behind in deliveries.

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Most American importers expect the first shipments of new bicycles to arrive by mid-June, though many retailers have already sold most of the inventory they expect to receive then through early orders from customers.

Some aspiring cyclists may have to wait until July or August for the next shipments of low-end consumer bikes to arrive, retailers say.

“There is no way to keep inventory for sub-$1,000 bikes,” said Lee Katz, co-owner of Turin Bikes in Chicago. “We’ve got a few right now, but it’s a matter of scrambling for them. We really don’t expect to see much in the way of inventory like that until July.”

At Big Wheel Bikes in Washington, D.C., the list of customers making preorders is the longest it has ever been in the company’s history. At Global Bikes in Phoenix, calls from customers looking for bikes have flooded in so incessantly that the owner, Brandee Lepak, said she can often still hear ringing when she gets home for the night.

But as some customers wait weeks for new shipments to arrive or scour secondhand sales online, many people who have managed to get bikes have found respite from the public health emergency on two wheels.

Jeremy Payne, who lives in Phoenix, purchased four bikes in the last month: one for him, one for his wife and one for each of his two children. He starts most of his days with a long bike ride and his wife has taken to riding to the grocery store rather than driving their car.

Even his 75-year-old mother, for whom he bought an electric bike in November, has become an avid cyclist in her neighborhood in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“She hadn’t been riding that much, but because of the pandemic she’s been cooped up in her house and wanted to get out,” he said. “Now she bikes around the same loop and her neighbors wave at her when she passes them. For her in her community it’s like the Tour de France.”

SOURCE

Nate Schweber contributed reporting. Christina Goldbaum is a transit reporter covering subways, buses, ferries, commuter rails, bicycles and all the other ways of getting around New York. Before joining The Times in 2018, she was a freelance foreign correspondent in East Africa. @cegoldbaum

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Two-meter distancing might halve infection risk compared to one meter

The news: Keeping people two meters apart from each other is far more effective than just one at reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus, according to a new analysis in The Lancet. The researchers combed through 172 observational studies across 16 countries and then applied statistical analysis to pull out estimates of infection risk. The models they used on nine key studies found that the transmission risk when people stood at least one meter away was an average of around 3%, but rose to about 13% when people were standing within one meter. The risk of transmission roughly halves for every extra meter of distancing up to three meters, the modeling suggested.

Masks, too: The researchers also found that both face coverings and eye protection significantly reduce the risk of spreading the virus: an analysis of the studies found that masks cut the risk of infection from 17% to 3% while eye protection reduces it from 16% to 6%. Other factors such as how long the people had been exposed were not taken into account as they were not part of the original data sets.

Why it matters: Governments around the world are discussing how to ensure people’s safety while lifting lockdown restrictions. It’s clear from this peer-reviewed paper that keeping people as physically apart from each other as possible has to be at the core of any sensible strategy. The findings should also inform workplaces, restaurants, bars, and movie theaters that are currently trying to work out how to get people back through their doors while protecting them from spreading covid-19 to each other.

Differing approaches: Distancing advice varies from country to country. In the UK it’s two meters currently, although there is some pressure to reduce that distance. In the US, the CDC advises six feet (1.8 meters), Australia and Germany say 1.5 meters, and France has one meter as its official guideline. The World Health Organization recommends people stay one meter apart.

The road to the world’s first zero-carbon country

Costa Rica has the high ambition to become the world’s first zero-carbon country. It’s gone a long way already, but how will its polluted capital clean up?

Costa Rica has bold plans to become the world's first zero-carbon country, but its capital San Jose has a long way to go (Credit: Getty Images)

Costa Rica – an ecological paradise of sandy beaches, protected tropical forests and pristine waterfalls, right? Include its 99% renewable electricity and bold plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and the country is often considered one of the greenest there is.

But for those familiar with its capital, San José, a different picture emerges. The reality of life here in the heart of the country’s central valley can feel far less eco-friendly. San José’s streets are typically full to brimming with cars, daily traffic jams and often-unreliable public transport.

Under lockdown, which in Costa Rica has seen strict limits imposed on when people can use their cars, traffic has slowed significantly. But as restrictions start to be lifted, the question arises as to whether San José can become a cleaner and less car-dependent city in normal times.

Costa Rica continues to reap the carbon benefits of decades-old hydroelectricity and forestry policies, but it has so far made little progress on limiting the climate impact of its transport sector – responsible for 54% of Costa Rica’s greenhouse gas emissions. With some cities around the world working to reduce the need for cars in the city since the pandemic, and others anticipating a surge in traffic – which way will San José go? Given Costa Rica’s self-promoted image as the “decarbonisation lab” of the world, the stakes for the city are particularly high.

The country’s car ownership rate is the third highest in Latin America and rising, with an increasing impact on people’s daily lives: one report found rush-hour commute times in San José centre had increased by more than 40% since 2015.

“I think we as Costa Ricans have a very aspirational view of having our own vehicles,” Claudia Dobles, Costa Rica’s first lady, told a hall full of people working in low carbon policy at an event in San José on safe and sustainable mobility in December.

Hydroelectric dams helped Costa Rica reach 99% renewable energy in 2019 (Credit: Getty Images)

Hydroelectric dams helped Costa Rica reach 99% renewable energy in 2019 (Credit: Getty Images)

Dobles is an architect and urban planner who has spearheaded the country’s low carbon transport plans. “We need to have a serious, deep national dialogue on what are the real challenges that we face in public transport,” she said. “What is the vision we have for Costa Rica, how do we really want Costa Rica to get itself around?”

I’ve seen those bikes in some of the poorest communities. I think it’s awesome that kids now have access to a bike that they can rent – Federico Cartin Arteaga

How to reduce car use in favour of low-carbon mobility is a challenge many other highly congested cities around the world face. It’s a more pressing question than ever in the light of social distancing, as people move towards individual means of transport. Global emissions from transport are expected to grow at a faster rate than those from any other sector, but transport has often been neglected in climate plans that focus principally on decarbonising electricity.

Fortunately, many living in Costa Rica’s capital are already fighting for a greener, more liveable city. After a decade of campaigning by cyclists, some cycle routes have begun to appear on streets, and there is an effort to build a connected network of lanes.

Since the coronavirus lockdown began, bicycles have also become a more common sight on the road, and bike sales have reportedly increased. “A lot of people will have at least tried it and got familiar with the terrain and then liked it,” says Andrea San Gil, environmental engineer and founder of the Centre for Urban Sustainability, based in San José. “Hopefully, they might just stick to it.”

A current push in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is a proposal to install temporary bike lanes and widen pavements. “It’s basically trying to just do the same as a lot of other cities have done: to widen sidewalks, close roads and just redistribute space so that people can cycle and walk more and do it safely,” says San Gil, who helped put forward the proposal. “But of course, everything is complicated and bureaucratic.”

New legislation that came into force in December obliges the Costa Rican authorities to assess the feasibility of building non-motorised infrastructure whenever they make road improvements. Perhaps more importantly, it also obliges municipalities to build cycle lanes into new motorways.

Vehicle ownership contributes to San Jose's problem with carbon emissions from transport, as well as urban congestion (Credit: Getty Images)

Vehicle ownership contributes to San Jose’s problem with carbon emissions from transport, as well as urban congestion (Credit: Getty Images)

“The last 10 years have been a big change, especially in infrastructure,” says David Gomez, a Costa Rican mobility consultant.

Gomez is the founder of Bicibus, which provides people in San José with advice on how to ride their bikes in the city. He is also part of a small but dedicated group of activists who have been pushing urban cycling in the city for more than a decade. These came together in groups such as A Bikepath for San José, formed in 2010, which helped to bring the city’s first urban cycleway into being.

Two major changes have come in the past decade for cycling in the city, says Gomez: “The construction of cycleways and, more recently, the deployment of a public bike system, Omnibikes, which have proven to be a game changer.”

That is the proposal, that we stop turning our backs on the river and gain access to these beautiful places as public space – Margarita Chaves Sibaja

Omnibikes, a dockless e-bike firm that charges per journey, launched in November 2019, becoming the first bike share scheme in San José. “I’ve seen those bikes in some of the poorest communities,” says Federico Cartin Arteaga, an economist and urban planner who was also a major candidate in San Jose’s mayoral elections in February 2020, ending up in second place. “I think it’s awesome that kids now have access to a bike that they can rent.”

The municipality of San José had been floating the idea of launching its own public system, but recently adopted Omnibikes as its official bikeshare system. This has helped to expand the number of bikes in the system, but at a price. An Omnibike costs $26 (£21) per month or $1.60 (£1.30) per hour. “That is definitely excluding a good number of potential bike users,” says Gomez. For comparison, a typical short-distance bus fare in San José sits at around 50 cents (41p).

There is still a long way to go on cycling. While the urban cycle route has helped cyclists by emphasising their right to use the road, it remains a single east-to-west corridor. “Once we have a fully connected network, inter-provincial and everything, then I think we’ll start seeing an increase in ridership and of course, an impact in carbon emissions,” says Gomez.

Rutas

Making it possible for people to get out of their cars and onto their feet and bikes is one thing, but it’s another to make such a move an appealing option. Rutas Naturbanas (literally “Nat-urban Routes”) is a riverside greening project that aims to build a 25km (15.6 mile) path along the two main rivers crossing San José, Río Torres and Río María Aguilar, founded by Cartin Arteaga.

Creating more bicycle lanes and promoting a cycling culture is one way to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in San Jose (Credit: Getty Images)

Creating more bicycle lanes and promoting a cycling culture is one way to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in San Jose (Credit: Getty Images)

While older generations of “Josefinos” fondly remember swimming in these rivers, they have become polluted and inaccessible to today’s generation. “Rivers weren’t really the centre or the protagonist in the city, they were really kind of on the back burner,” says Cartin Arteaga, who left the project while he was running for mayor.

He says he was attracted to the idea of a riverside walkway due to its combination of environmental protection – a core value for Costa Ricans – and urban mobility. Rutas Naturbanas aims to create a clean and safe walkway along the river where people can commute by foot or bike or simply enjoy nature and wildlife in the city.

We have an inventory of many species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles living in these spaces. But we have been destroying these areas – Margarita Chaves Sibaja

One sunny morning long before lockdown, I joined a tour of the walkway led by Margarita Chaves Sibaja, the project’s partnership director. Chaves Sibaja proudly escorted the group along the tiny 400m (1,320ft) stretch constructed so far, settling on a picnic blanket to talk with me.

“We are making these rivers visible and creating shared-use roads so that people can move around the city on foot or by bicycle through safe spaces,” she says. “[At the moment] we cross the city and do not see the river. That is precisely the proposal, that we stop turning our backs on the river and gain access to these beautiful places as public space, where additionally many species of animals and plants are showing a very high resilience.”

She points over to where a family of sloths, rarely if ever seen in the city, are residing. “We have an inventory of many species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles living in these spaces,” she says. “[But] we have been destroying [these areas] precisely because of the lack of urban planning.”

Sloths are found in many parts of Costa Rica, but rarely in its capital - except in a few hidden spots (Credit: Getty Images)

Sloths are found in many parts of Costa Rica, but rarely in its capital – except in a few hidden spots (Credit: Getty Images)

The project still has a long way to go to complete its vision of a 25km urban riverside walkway. While it has already secured permission to develop two more stretches of 1km (0.6 miles) and 2.5km (1.6 mile), this has not been easy. Regulation of urban areas is complicated in Costa Rica, with much of the nearby land owned by a mishmash of different landowners. “We were literally knocking on doors to see who these people were,” says Cartin Arteaga. The riverside is also protected as a biological corridor by law, preventing new construction alongside it.

But the government is supportive of these types of schemes, even naming Rutas Naturbanas as one of the actions taken in the first year of its National Decarbonisation Plan. The government has also pledged to restore 20% of the rivers in San José and its surrounding area by 2050 and to have built a network of pedestrian walkways that also serve as biological corridors.

Rutas Naturbanas has already been valuable through its ability to allow people to imagine the city working differently, says San Gil. “I think they have a very good use of imagery and modelling and renders to make people imagine how riversides could be used in a better way,” she says. “I think that’s something that Costa Ricans need, especially if they’ve never gone out of Costa Rica, to see how the city could look if we made all of these improvements.”

Green transport

San Gil is also focused on a different battle: public transport. She tells me she is trying to get people “pissed off” about San José’s inefficient and poorly funded public bus system. “I’m trying to mention it in every chance I get when I talk,” she says. “If we’re going to talk about decarbonisation, changing the buses is much more significant than changing to electric cars. The most vulnerable people are the ones who use the bus.”

Public transport in Costa Rica is run by concession: the government puts individual routes out for tender, but the state does not subsidise transport. Bus companies have gained political power and been resistant to forming a connected, electronic payment system, leading to a confusing knot of different routes. Arrival times can be unreliable, and even information on individual routes is hard to come by.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the bus service in San Jose has been running at limited capacity with increased cleaning to maintain safety (Credit: Getty Images)

During the coronavirus pandemic, the bus service in San Jose has been running at limited capacity with increased cleaning to maintain safety (Credit: Getty Images)

“There’s a lot of things that don’t make sense at all because they haven’t been planned,” says San Gil.

The bus system is largely conceived as a service that requires no infrastructure, adds San Gil, and thus receives a bare minimum of public funding. “The state does not invest in terminals or central stations bus stops, information for users or segregated bus lanes,” she says. “You get only roads and no other investment in anything else that’s not roads.”

During lockdown, rules implemented on public transport include strict disinfection protocols, masks for drivers and buses running at maximum 50% capacity. “One of the things that would reduce the contact between at least the drivers and the passengers would be electronic payment,” says San Gil. “But we’ve dragged that around for decades now, I don’t see it happening yet.”

Some things are moving, if slowly. San José now has several bus lanes, a novelty in the country, even if none runs for more than a kilometre or two. “It’s all these chunks here and there, but they haven’t really connected them into a network and that needs to be done for it to reach full potential,” says Gomez. “That is a big, big changer, because it will make travelling by bus faster than travelling by car.

Perhaps the most exciting project in the works, though, is a scheme to build the country’s first electric passenger train. A pet project of first lady Claudia Dobles, this aims to link to other cities in San José’s wider metropolitan area – and hopefully help to cut traffic on some of the most congested routes into the city centre.

There is already a train running this route, but it is noisy, infrequent and runs on petrol. The new electric train will be low carbon, run every five minutes in rush hour and use an electronic payment system. There will also be a push to link it up to other parts of the city via a network of buses, pedestrian access and cycle routes, says Gomez, who will be working with the train authority, Incofer, on exactly that.

“It’s a huge deal,” says Gomez. “The fact it will increase capacity by more than 10 times what we have right now on the current train is definitely going to attract a lot more riders. Higher capacity, more frequency, more stops in between and a longer reach – all those things make it a very likeable system.”

The government is also hoping large infrastructure projects such as the electric train will help the country recover from the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic by providing jobs. Costa Rica had seen only 10 deaths from the virus at the time of writing, but lockdown has hit its economy hard, particularly in the tourism sector.

The electric train line has so far secured a $550m (£445m) loan for the train, although this still needs to be approved by its Congress where the current government has a minority. The remaining $1bn (£808m) funding needed to build the train will be invested by whichever private company is chosen to run it. The first stretch of the train is scheduled to be running by 2025, but Gomez estimates it could be up to a decade before the line is completed. In the meantime, Costa Rica has recently bought eight new trains to run on the original track. “That’s a good intermediate step. It’s at least going to challenge us to feed that train because it’ll have more capacity,” he says.

Other factors are changing the landscape of public transport in San José, too. Younger generations are increasingly using taxi apps such as Uber and DiDi. This gives people the flexibility to chop and change which transport they use and avoid drink-driving, says Gomez, although it also likely takes away riders from public transport.

The government, meanwhile, is strongly promoting electric cars, which doubled in number on Costa Rican roads last year. Still, the total is just over 1,000 and is unlikely to solve the congestion problem.

If you happen upon one of Costa Rica’s gleaming tourism brochures, you are more likely to see a beach on the front page than a picture of San José. But with nearly half of Costa Rica’s population living in the capital and its surrounding urban agglomeration, it’s here the changes will need to begin if the country is to become truly zero carbon.

SOURCE

Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance climate change reporter. You can find her on Twitter @jloistf.

Ombudsman to investigate Ford government’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes

Crosses appeared on the lawn of the Camilla Care Community care home in Mississauga after the deaths of more than 50 residents from COVID-19.

A key watchdog is launching an investigation into how Premier Doug Ford’s government handled the tragic situation in Ontario nursing homes, where almost 1,700 residents have died from COVID-19 despite promises of an “iron ring” of protection from the virus.

Provincial ombudsman Paul Dube said his move follows a military report that detailed horrific conditions at five homes to which it sent medical teams, including accounts of patients being fed forcefully to the point of choking and left for days in soiled diapers, crying for help.

“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis,” Dube added in a statement Monday as Ontario topped 30,000 cases of COVID-19 with 2,336 deaths.

“Our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action,” he said, citing “grave concerns” about the situation in long-term care.

“Never has it been more important to ensure that these systems are working as they should,” the ombudsman added, noting the independence of his office from government.

Ford said he welcomes the investigation and opposition parties applauded it, saying the probe could shed more light on what went wrong than an “independent commission” the premier promised will begin next month.

“I need answers. I want answers,” Ford told his daily news conference. “We need to get this fixed.”

Rivals said they have little faith in Ford’s commission, for which no leader has been named nor terms of reference \released.

“I remain worried that a government-controlled commission will not be transparent, could downplay the government’s contributions to the crisis and will not have a broad scope of investigation,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.

New Democrats repeated their call for a full public judicial inquiry.

“That’s the only way we’ll spark the overhaul that’s needed,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “The risks at the outset were obvious to many in Ontario’s threadbare and rarely inspected homes.”

Critics say the government overprepared for COVID-19 in hospitals and underprepared in long-term care, where group living in close quarters left residents highly susceptible, and that the government waited too long to stop staff from working in more than one home.

Investigators from the ombudsman’s office will review Ontario’s standards and policies for nursing homes “as well as the adequacy of oversight mechanisms to ensure compliance.”

The probe will look at how complaints were handled, inspections by the Ministry of Long-Term Care and its staff, emergency planning, steps taken to support nursing homes during the pandemic, collection of data on COVID-19 cases, rates of infection and death and communication by nursing homes with residents, staff and the public.

Ford has acknowledged the long-term-care system is “broken” and last week accused the government’s own inspectors of refusing to do in-person inspections at the height of the pandemic in April — a charge the Ontario Public Service Employees Union denied, saying that decision was made by managers.

The premier attempted to mend fences Monday, telling inspectors infuriated by his remarks that “I know we had a little bump there … I appreciate everything you do.”

Troubles continue at a number of Ontario nursing homes.

The latest facility to be hard-hit is Woodbridge Vista Care Community, which Ford is under pressure to take over under emergency powers after administrators sent 18 patients to hospital with COVID-19 on the weekend.

This is why the province should not be keeping secret its list of “code red” nursing homes, with the biggest problems handling the highly contagious virus, Horwath said.

“Ford said Ontarians deserve to know what he knows,” Horwath said in a statement.

“He knows this home has a massive outbreak of COVID-19. Ontario must take over its management immediately to ensure seniors are getting the same care the private operator is failing to provide.”

The nursing home sent 18 residents to several hospitals on Saturday night. It is owned by Sienna Senior Living, which also owns Altamont Community Care in Scarborough and Camilla Care Community in Mississauga, which were both taken over temporarily by the province last week. There are now seven homes under government control. Altamont was a subject of the scathing military report.

Woodbridge Vista Care has 224 beds, with 65 residents sick from COVID-19, 17 dead from it and 20 staff infected, according to an Ontario government tally.

“Long-term care can manage to a certain extent, but when you get many people sick with COVID-19 symptoms you want to do everything possible,” said Sienna vice-president Joanne Dykeman.

The number of nursing homes with outbreaks of COVID-19 has declined to 112. A total of 306 have had outbreaks, 184 of which have been resolved, according to Ontario government figures released Monday morning.

There are still 1,154 nursing home residents and 978 staff members with active cases of the novel coronavirus, both slight declines from the previous day. Seven workers have died. At least 5,097 residents of nursing homes have tested positive for COVID-19.

The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has also been declining and is down to 781, with 125 in intensive care and 89 of them on ventilators.

Labs across the province processed 14,379 tests Sunday, with another 6,427 people awaiting results.

More than 66 per cent of cases have been in the GTA, where the majority of new infections are still taking place. About three-quarters of the new cases announced by the government Monday were in Toronto and Peel.

As of Monday at 5 p.m., Ontario had 30,044 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January with 2,336 deaths, according to a Star compilation of data from health units in the previous 24 hours. There were 458 new and probable cases of the virus with an increase of eight deaths.

Across Canada, there have been 91,351 cases and 7,305 deaths.

SOURCE

Rob Ferguson
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

TVO: Should Canada Have a Four-Day Work Week?

Leading companies – including Microsoft – have experimented with it. Recently, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern floated the idea for employers to consider. And, Justin Trudeau weighed in on the possibility for Canada, saying, “I think there are a lot of people thinking creatively about what the post-COVID world could look like.”

The Agenda examines the possibility of a four-day- work week and how this pandemic may change employment in Canada. 

SOURCE

Nova Scotia’s lands and forestry minister says he’ll strengthen conservation work

Minister Iain Rankin says he respects the recent directions of a Supreme Court justice

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says some of the orders given by a Supreme Court justice to better protect at-risk species in Nova Scotia will be “challenging” to implement. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In the wake of a Nova Scotia Supreme Court order to better protect at-risk species, Nova Scotia’s minister of lands and forestry said his department will do its best “to get the work done.”

Minister Iain Rankin said he was still reviewing the decision, released Friday, and wouldn’t say whether the province might appeal.

“I respect the court’s direction and I welcome the opportunity to keep that discussion going,” he said.

Rankin said much of the work ordered by Justice Christa Brothers last week is already underway.

Brothers said the minister had failed to live up to his duties under the Endangered Species Act in chronic and systemic ways, and specifically in the cases of six at-risk plant and animal species — the Canada warbler and eastern wood peewee, both songbirds; the black ash and ram’s head lady slipper, both plants; the wood turtle and the mainland moose.

Nova Scotia listed the Canada warbler as endangered in 2013. The law says endangered species must have a recovery team within one year. The province appointed a recovery team in 2019. (Scott Leslie)

 

The legislation requires the minister to appoint expert teams and to adopt recovery plans within one to three years of listing the species at-risk. Brothers found those deadlines had not been met.

“There’s no question the court sees it should be a higher priority, so I accept that and we’ll do our best to use the resources we have to get the work done,” said Rankin.

The province started filling in some of the gaps that the applicants — a group of environmental advocates — highlighted when they launched the case last January.

In her written decision, Brothers described that work as a “flurry of activity” initiated in an “inadequate and transparent attempt to correct its failures ex post facto.”

But Rankin said it wasn’t actually the judicial review that prompted the work. Rather, he said his department stepped up after the auditor general reported in 2016 that conservation efforts were lacking, and again after the 2018 Lahey Report on ecological forestry advised the province to better implement the Endangered Species Act.

Department says it has the resources

After accepting the findings of the Lahey report, Rankin said his department added two biologists to help with its obligations under the act. He said with those additions, the department should have the resources to handle the judge’s orders.

Rankin said his department has now appointed recovery teams for all the species named in the case, and recovery plans are “pretty well in place.”

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers ordered the province to identify core habitat for the mainland moose as part of its conservation efforts. (Submitted by Bob Bancroft)

 

The most challenging order to fulfil, Rankin said, would be identifying core habitat for mainland moose, because they have a “high level of mobility.”

Generally, Rankin said addressing biodiversity loss is a challenge, and one that isn’t unique to Nova Scotia.

“It’s no secret that we’re faced with that as a global emergency, not unlike climate change,” he said.

“So these issues are coming more and more to the forefront and I think it is our duty to take it more seriously and I think that’s what we’re gonna be engaged in with more urgency moving forward.”

SOURCE

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B.C. Court of Appeal upholds lower court decision on western boundary of Treaty 8

Several first nations believe the western boundary was and always has been at the Rocky Mountains

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

A First Nation serving as an intervenor in a long-running dispute of a land boundary interpretation regarding a 121-year-old treaty is expressing disappointment following a recent B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

Separating the Pacific Ocean watershed from drainage flowing towards the Arctic, the Arctic Pacific Divide runs through the middle of Nak’azdli Whut’en territory which was upheld as the western boundary of Treaty 8 by the court in a divided decision on Tuesday, May 19.

“With them stating that the western boundary is the Arctic Pacific Divide it infringes heavily into our territory,” said Chief Alexander McKinnon.

”The Treaty 8 Nations may now more than before either try to exercise their rights in our territory or have the Crown acknowledge that they have the right to do so. Treaty 8 rights, we don’t believe exist in our territory, and we intend to do everything possible to protect our land and our way of life.”

Treaty 8 is one of eleven ‘numbered treaties’ Canada entered into with Indigenous groups throughout the country between 1871 and 1921. It was signed on June 21, 1899 in the District of Athabasca which encompassed what is now northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan.

At the heart of the appeal was text of the treaty which described the western boundary of a tract of land in northeastern B.C. as “the central range of the Rocky Mountains…to the point where it intersects the 60th parallel of north latitude.”

In 2005, the West Moberly First Nations, Halfway River First Nation, Saulteau First Nations, Prophet River First Nation, and Doig River First Nation commenced litigation arguing the western boundary of the tract of land described in the Treaty referred to the height of land (the ‘Arctic-Pacific Divide”) along the continental divide between the Arctic and Pacific watersheds (the wider boundary).

The Court of Appeal noted the interest of the respondent First Nations in obtaining declaration stems from the position that the Treaty gives them hunting, trapping, and fishing rights through the tract defined in the metes and bounds clause.

Applications to strike the claim were dismissed, and after 61 days of hearing the trial ended on November 25, 2016 with the judge declaring “the said range [“the central range of the Rocky Mountain”] in the metes and bounds description of Treaty 8 refers to the Arctic Pacific Divide or watershed, and not to a range or lesser watershed within what we now call the Rocky Mountains.”

The Fort Nelson First Nation was one of the original plaintiffs but withdrew from action on June 11, 2009.

An appeal was launched by the Province with the support of the Kaska Dena who inhabit territory that lies west of the Rocky Mountains and did not adhere to the treaty or sign the treaty, and the McLeod Lake Indian Band.

First Nations that live in the disputed territory including Tahltan Central Government, Tsay Keh Dene First Nation, Takla Lake First Nation and Nak’azdli First Nation were granted intervenor status.

“Nak’azdli Whut’en has been utilizing the lands to sustain their way of life since the beginning of time,” McKinnon said noting he would like to see the western boundary of Treaty 8 reinstated to its original description.

“Our families have been stewards of these lands for generations and taking care of it so it lasts future generations, and it’s very disappointing now after all of that that the Treaty 8 Nations are going to exercise those rights. They don’t have a legal obligation to abide by our stewardship leads.”

As an intervenor, Nak’azdli Whut’ten does not have the right to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, McKinnon added.

He said they are carefully watching what the main parties will do and plan to consider all options including participating in any appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The ruling only came down late Tuesday, so I think everybody is just getting prepared to see what their next steps will be.”

The Province is currently reviewing the reasons given by the court, and said it is too early to make any further comment.

SOURCE

CJPME Supports International Protests for Racial Justice and Against Police Brutality

Montreal, June 2, 2020 — Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) expresses its support for ongoing protests in the US, Canada, and around the world following the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis. These demonstrations have forced a necessary public discussion on issues of anti-black racism and police brutality and remind us of the ongoing struggle for racial justice in Canada. Oppressed communities in the Middle East and elsewhere have also expressed their common cause and solidarity, noting similar experiences with police violence and discrimination.

CJPME emphasizes that the US protests take place in the context of recent allegations of racist police violence in Canada. Last week in Toronto, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from her 24-story apartment during a visit from police, and her family have said they believe that police are responsible. “The murder of George Floyd reminds us of the systemic racism and police violence that the black community faces in Canada,” says Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME. “We must recommit ourselves to fighting racism at home and seek justice for victims of police violence and their families.”

CJPME points out that the disturbing images of US police violence in response to unarmed protestors are reminiscent of the daily violence faced by Palestinians at the hands of Israeli police and occupation forces. Last weekend 32-year-old Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man, was shot to death by Israeli police while walking to school in East Jerusalem. He is just one of hundreds of Palestinian victims every year at the hands of Israeli security forces. As in the US, members of Israeli security forces accused of such incidents are rarely prosecuted, and there is rarely justice for the victims.

CJPME calls attention to the fact that events in Minneapolis, Toronto, and East Jerusalem are related and that systemic racism and the militarization of policing are global problems. Canada and the US engage in security partnerships and police training programs with Israel, where they are exposed to often discriminatory and lethal techniques. In 2016, Amnesty International warned that police training programs in Israel place “law enforcement employees in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years.” CJPME calls for an end to training partnerships with Israel, and for an end to the militarization of police forces.

SOURCE

For more information, please contact:
Khaoula Chehbouni, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
Telephone: 438-380-5410
Email CJPME – CJPME Website

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