Thursday, June 26, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Sierra Club gives N.S. failing grades
Province's environmental record one of worst in country, group says

By Brian Underhill / Ottawa Bureau

Ottawa - The Hamm government can shed its image as an environmental failure by releasing a strong pre-election green plan as previously promised, Sierra Club of Canada executive director Elizabeth May said Wednesday.

Nova Scotia's environmental record is being deemed one of the worst in Canada after the province received an F for its commitment to biodiversity, an F for toxic waste pollution and a C for climate change.

Only Alberta and B.C., which got all Fs, were ranked lower.

The failing marks were outlined in the Sierra Club's 11th annual Rio Report Card, which rates the performance of federal and provincial governments using data gathered in conjunction with 30 other organizations.

Nationally, the federal government was given credit for ratifying the Kyoto accord and creating 10 new national parks, and some provinces, like Quebec and New Brunswick, were applauded for gains in wilderness protection.

However, Nova Scotia is singled out for its "appalling" record on marine environment issues, issuing permits for a massive basalt quarry on Digby Neck, and stonewalling on the health risks to Cape Breton communities surrounding toxic waste sites.

May said the grade is "provisional" and could be changed to a passing mark if the province cleans up its act by tabling its promised economic blueprint.

"If that green plan includes significant interim protection . . . to the key protected areas we mention in the report card . . . that would improve Mr. Hamm's grade and we would reissue the report card," she said.

Those areas include a ban on oil and gas exploration within 100 kilometres of the Nova Scotia shoreline, the proper cleanup of toxic sites and the creation of a buffer zone around the Gully - a subsea canyon off Sable Island that contains rare marine life.

Ms. May is cautiously optimistic because a number of other premiers have recently "spruced up their records" as they headed into an election campaign.

"In looking for trends, it appears that death-bed conversions are good for the environment," she said. "Let's hope the same phenomenon strikes soon for . . . John Hamm."

The F for biodiversity is because the Hamm government has not created any new protected wilderness areas on public lands and for its failure to bring forward nature reserves legislation, the reports states.

To reverse this failing grade would require action on demands for new protected areas including Eigg Mountain-James River, Gully Lake, Herring Cove Backlands, Five Bridge Lakes, Ship Harbour Long Lake, Nictaux River, Humes River and Tobeatic Additions.

The report is also critical of the growing use of off-road ATVs, which are described as a menace to their users, a waste of fossil fuel and damaging to wilderness.

On the pollution front (where the province got an F for the third year in a row), the report says things have gone from bad to worse. The Hamm government is criticized for refusing to acknowledge health risks to communities surrounding the toxic waste sites and dismissing studies that document extremely elevated cancer risks in these neighbourhoods.

The only positive seen in terms of toxic substances was Halifax's pesticide bylaw.

The province's best grade was the C for climate change. The government is given credit for supporting the Kyoto accord as well as Clean Nova Scotia's energy efficiency efforts.

The report also points out that the provincial utility has brought two wind generators on line and converted some electricity production to natural gas.

However, the province is slammed for continuing to burn coal in its electricity plants, while shipping cleaner-burning natural gas to the U.S.