You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.
Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.
Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.
“I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”
Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”
On the same day that the Obama administration released long-awaited new safety regulations for the oil-by-rail industry, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released another report with their testing results for Bakken crude oil. The conclusion reached by PHMSA is that Bakken crude oil “is more volatile than most other types of crude.”
These results don’t come as a surprise since the five oil trains that have crashed and exploded in the last year all were carrying Bakken crude.
Of course, the new regulations released imultaneously do not require the oil industry to do the one thing that would eliminate this problem: oil stabilization. A well known and proven method for removing the natural gas liquids from crude oil that makes the oil “stable” and non-explosive.
While the new regulations do not offer any proposals to require the oil industry to remove the volatile components of Bakken crude, on page 144 of the proposal they do acknowledge that this is possible. They request comments on the following question:
Is the current exception for combustible liquids sufficient to incentivize producers to reduce the volatility of crude oil for continued use of existing tank cars?
Essentially they are acknowledging that if the industry stabilized the oil it wouldn’t be explosive and thus they would be able to continue to use the existing DOT-111 rail cars to transport it. Just like those tank cars will be able to transport Alberta tar sands oil because it is not explosive.
The week before the release of the new regulations, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Association of Railroads released a joint statement stating that they were in agreement on two things that shouldn’t be part of the finalized new regulations — lower train speeds and mandatory stabilization. And while the proposed regulations do offer some requirements for lower trains speeds, they include nothing about mandatory stabilization.
“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.
“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”
Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.
“PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”
Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.
City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”
Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.
Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”
Before members of Congress departed Washington, D.C. for their month-long August recess, senators attempted one final vote on a resolution that did nothing more than state that the Senate accepts the science on climate change. Noted science-denying Republican James Inhofe blocked the resolution, which required a unanimous vote by Senators in order to pass.
Thus, the resolution failed, but not before Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse issued a stirring rebuttal to Inhofe’s claims of climate change being a hoax:
While a few people like Senator Whitehouse are fighting the good fight from inside the system itself, they still need help from the outside in order to hold climate change deniers and environmental polluters accountable. The NRDC Action Fund has stepped in to back them up this summer.
While members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are out campaigning during their recess, the NRDC Action Fund has launched a “Dirty Denier$” campaign that will feature a different member of Congress every day.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.