Rachel's Precaution Reporter #81
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From: Gulf Islands Driftwood (Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada) [This story printer-friendly]
March 14, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: A Court in British Columbia, Canada, has halted construction of a high-voltage power line, partly based on precautionary arguments.]

By Stacy Cardigan Smith

[See last week's Precaution Reporter story on this subject.]

Gulf Islands residents living near the overhead power lines can breathe a tentative sign of relief as work ceases on the transmission line project for now.

"What we've done is agreed at this time that we won't be doing any further work east of the Salt Spring sub-station," said Sharon Wasylik, BCTC community relations coordinator Monday.

The sub-station is located at the corner of Lower Ganges and Atkins roads and includes parts of Salt Spring, Parker and Galiano islands.

However, work will continue on the portion of Salt Spring located to the west of the sub-station, as well as in North Cowichan.

According to Wasylik, work had not yet begun, save for an osprey nest being relocated on Salt Spring last week.

The halt comes following pressure from groups involved in a B.C. Court of Appeal case related to the project.

When the appeal was granted to Island Residents Against High Voltage Overhead Lines (IRAHVOL) and Tsawwassen Residents Against High Voltage Overhead Lines (TRAHVOL), BCTC agreed to cease construction, Wasylik said.

"Unfortunately, it now appears there was a misunderstanding of what constituted overhead line construction work," she said. "We kind of considered it pre-construction. They considered it construction."

Wasylik said pre-construction activity, including brush clearing and road preparation, will continue as per discussions between both sides' lawyers.

However, IRAHVOL representative Daria Zovi responded in an e-mail: "The recent decision to halt construction... following media coverage of the issue and requests from IRAHVOL's legal counsel is welcomed with reservations by IRAHVOL. A complete stop to all construction of this proposed power line would be the proper response by B.C. Hydro and BCTC as two issues are before the B.C. Court of Appeal."

Right to appeal was granted November 7, 2006 on two grounds.

The first concerns whether the existing right of way agreements allow for project construction.

"British Columbia Utilities Commissioners should not have assumed that the existing right of way agreements, acquired over 50 years ago, permit the construction of the proposed project," wrote Zovi.

The second concerns whether the "precautionary principle" should be applied by tribunals. The principle is "a general principle of conduct" that many countries have applied, said Zovi.

It states that in situations of "uncertainty where risk is considerable and long lasting, the decision makers should choose the course of caution so they should decide for a very conservative route because of the uncertainties," she added.

"British Columbia Utilities Commissioners were obligated to apply the precautionary principle, which they failed to do when they considered the health risks associated with long-term exposure to the electromagnetic field generated by the proposed transmission lines," she said.

Zovi is also critical that BCTC has not informed property owners about the court appeal.

Although the initial right to appeal was granted November 7, 2006 and the second ground was granted on February 12, letters announcing that the appeal has been granted and pre-construction will cease immediately had yet to be distributed on Tuesday.

Wasylik said the letters are expected to go out this week.

"When it's sort of major things that impact whether we are or aren't going to proceed, then we let [property owners] know," Wasylik said.

According to Zovi, "Omission to notify the public and property owners of this crucial legal process that may overturn the British Columbia Utilities Commission approval of the project, is, in IRAHVOL's view, equivalent to false information."

The pre-construction is also a potential waste of public money if the appeal is successful, Zovi said.

"It is part of what we need to do to meet our in-service date and we're proceeding with that," countered Wasylik.

She added the project has a budget of $250 million and its in-service date is fall 2008.

The Municipality of Hudson, Quebec won a ground-breaking case to regulate the cosmetic use of pesticides using the same precautionary principle in June 2001.

Zovi said IRAHVOL is currently attempting to gain support from the World Wildlife Fund and the Suzuki Foundation, among other organizations.

"Now that we're discussing this big principle, it's important that we have people representing these other groups."

Zovi added the case might eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

"[I don't know if the] best forum [for the case] is the Court of Appeal, but if we have to go to the Supreme Court of Canada, we'll have to decide on that," Zovi said.

For the past two years, IRAHVOL has been advocating a submarine and underground DC cable system which goes directly to Vancouver Island and bypasses the Gulf Islands.


From: UK Indymedia ........................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 13, 2007


They were first with land mines, first with cluster bombs -- now Belgium has become the first country in the world to ban uranium weapons

[Rachel's introduction: The Belgian Chamber Commission on National Defence has taken a precautionary stance, voting unanimously to ban the use of depleted uranium "inert ammunitions and armour plates on Belgian territory."]

Although the Belgian army does not currently use uranium weapons, the ban will affect US shipments of uranium ammunition and armour plate via the port of Antwerp.

The Belgian Chamber Commission on National Defence voted unanimously in favour of banning the use of depleted uranium "inert ammunitions and armour plates on Belgian territory."

Acknowledging the Precautionary Principle, the deputies agreed that the manufacture, use, storage, sale, acquisition, supply and transit of these conventional weapon systems should be prohibited. At the last moment the term "weapon" was deleted to make sure that the law proposal would not put a ban on the thermonuclear bombs that are stored on the Air Force base of Kleine Brogel.

In a few weeks, the Commission's decision will be discussed in the full Parliament and the Senate. This will be only a question of formality. The ruling has made Belgium the first country in the world to ban ammunitions and armour that contain depleted uranium or any other industrially manufactured uranium. Because it was purported that the government needs time to promote such a ban outside Belgium, and because the Dutch speaking liberal-democrat party wants to know if other countries would be willing to follow the Belgian example, it is now stipulated in the accepted text that the law will get into force two years after publication in the Belgian Statute Book.

The vote was a result of intense lobbying by the Belgian Coalition 'Stop Uranium Weapons!' The coalition is a member of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW), an umbrella group of 85 members from 22 countries who are seeking to promote an independent treaty to ban the manufacture, use, transfer, stockpiling and sale of uranium weapons.

Belgian Coalition: 'Stop Uranium weapons!' http://www.motherearth.org/du

Campaign Against Depleted Uranium e-mail: info@cadu.org.uk Homepage: http://www.cadu.org.uk


From: TheTyee.ca .........................................[This story printer-friendly]
March, 8 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "The concept that drives this deregulation train is referred to as "risk management." In the good old days of government in the public interest a different principle prevailed: the precautionary principle. That held that if there looked like there might be a problem, then you assumed in your decisions that there would be a problem. In other words, the goal used to be: err on the side of caution. Now we err on the side of profit."]

By Murray Dobbin

It turns out that there's a lot of ways "the Boys' Club" can kill us. One method is death by deregulation. A couple of stories in recent days have highlighted a trend that has been eroding the public interest and public safety for over a decade -- and all in the interests of the corporate bottom line.

Deregulation is one of neo-liberalism's five big initiatives (free trade, privatization, service cuts and tax cuts make up the rest). And it shows how successfully they have framed the issue. Who in their right mind would want more red tape?

Well, for starters, pretty much anyone who flies in Canada, eats food, drives a car, uses prescription drugs or lives some place that could catch fire. That's just the short list.

All you really have to do is think about the profit motive and imagine that there were no regulations to moderate its impact. That's what regulations are mostly about -- attempting to manage the greed unleashed by capitalism. And neo-liberalism is all about undoing that management system and replacing it with corporate self-regulation. ("Self-regulation" being right up there on the list of modern oxymorons.)

Fear of flying

Virgil Moshansky is so prominent in the field of improving aviation safety that he received Canada's highest recognition for his work, when he was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2005. Last week he felt compelled to intervene publicly at the Commons Transport Committee, warning that recent cost-cutting and what he called the complete abandonment of government oversight of private airlines were creating the perfect conditions for more airline disasters. Moshansky issued a now-famous report in 1989 on a crash that killed 29 people in Dryden, Ontario which recommended major changes at Transport Canada Now he says most of those changes have been lost: "Regulatory oversight is not being merely reduced. Except for limited focused audits, it is being systematically dismantled." The approach now is self-regulation: handing over virtually every aspect of aviation safety to the big companies. This when airline deregulation has made competition even more cutthroat and the motivation to cut corners that much greater.

The concept that drives this deregulation train is referred to as "risk management." In the good old days of government in the public interest a different principle prevailed: the precautionary principle. That held that if there looked like there might be a problem, then you assumed in your decisions that there would be a problem. In other words, the goal used to be: err on the side of caution. Now we err on the side of profit.

Blame the watchdogs

A short trip down neo-liberal memory lane is in order here. The conflict between risk management and the precautionary principle was highlighted back in the 1990s with some very high-profile cases in which Canadian scientists -- dedicated to protecting the public from dubious drugs -- were harassed and bullied by the federal government, essentially for doing their jobs.

In 1996, Michele Brill-Edwards resigned from her job as a federal drug reviewer at the federal Health Protection Branch (HPB) because of what she considered to be undue industry influence in the drug approval process. She left in a dispute over a controversial heart drug called nifedipine, claiming that her superiors in the HPB ignored independent research showing the drug could actually cause heart attacks, rather than prevent them.

At about the same time five scientists assigned to evaluate BGH (the Bovine Growth Hormone developed by Monsanto) had serious concerns about its long-term effects, which had not been thoroughly studied. However, when they refused to approve the drug, they were put under relentless pressure by their superiors.

One of the five scientists, Dr. Chiv Chopra, went before a Public Service Staff Relations Board to complain. In response, one his managers threatened to ship him and his colleagues to other departments where they would "never be heard of again" if they didn't hurry their evaluations of BGH. In both cases, the companies owning the patents were paying Health Canada for the testing. And as clients, the firms expected positive results.

Federal spending on the HPB was cut by Paul Martin from $63 million in 1993-94 to $22 million in 1998. That money was replaced by corporate "fees." By 1998, 70 per cent of the agency's drug review budget came from corporate "clients."

Forget precaution

David Dodge, put in charge of "restructuring" -- read corporatizing -- Health Canada explained: "The regulatory approach is an old-fashioned way to deal with risk...We have to operate in the face of uncertainty. The [current] process is now geared to not making decisions. Risk management is about maximizing benefits and minimizing risks." In other words, applying a strictly corporate model to protecting the health of Canadians.

The deregulation madness eventually has consequences. Planes fall from the sky. Or, as is happening lately in the U.S., people get poisoned by bad food. In the past six months, hundreds of people have been made ill or dead by contaminated lettuce, spinach and, most recently, peanut butter.

U.S. news stories highlight the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now conducting just half the number of food inspections it was doing in 2003. Michael Doyle, Director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, has said "We have a food safety crisis on the horizon." Overall food inspections have dropped by half but inspections of U.S.-produced food has dropped 75 per cent -- to just 2,455 inspections in 2006.

When the FDA responds to criticisms, you see the same kind of language as that used by David Dodge and other "restructuring" gurus: it's all about risk management. Indeed, in the 1990s the government took radical steps that not even the corporate-dominated democracy of the U.S. dared consider. It gave to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency a dual mandate: it was now not only responsible for protecting Canadians from contaminated food, it was also responsible, in partnership with business, for promoting trade in Canadian agricultural products. The government's zeal for promoting trade led it to institutionalize a conflict of interest that undermines food inspection.

Twin threats

It can only get worse given two initiatives that are currently working at increasing the speed and breadth of deregulation. The first is the deep integration initiative -- now formally called the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America -- which aims to harmonize all such inspection systems to create a "single North American economy." The SPP, driven and guided by the powerful Canadian Council of Chief Executives, is the biggest single initiative in deregulation. According to New Democrat MP Peter Julian "We're looking at potentially 300 different areas where Canada is accepting lower American standards."

The deregulation thrust goes under the Orwellian name of "smart regulation" -- a term and a process thoroughly debunked by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The CCPA's Bruce Campbell pointed out: "Growing incidence of cancer, rising asthma rates and greater neurological disorders suggest that untested environmental toxins may be a big part of the problem. Under current regulatory methods, it could be decades before substances thought to be toxic, but not proven conclusively in a scientific sense, are banned or even restricted."

The second initiative is TILMA, the B.C.-Alberta investors' rights pact that hands over responsibility for deregulation directly to business.

The two measures, in fact, work hand in hand. Because a great deal of regulatory activity in Canada happens at the provincial and municipal level, harmonizing at the level of national governments still leaves thousands of regulations in place. There are strong suspicions that the federal government had a hand in pushing Albert and B.C. to take the first step in bringing all the provinces (and municipalities) into a massive deregulation project that would smooth the way for deep integration.

As evidenced in the U.S. FDA example, deregulation can go on even without legislation and with the public none the wiser. All you have to do is slash the number of inspectors and the law or regulation can be made all but useless. All of this is being done to enhance "competitiveness" -- except that there is no hard evidence that deregulation will have any impact other than to put Canadians at ever greater risk.


From: Kilkenny People (Kilkenny, Ireland) ................[This story printer-friendly]
March 14, 2007


Kilkenny Co Council officials are investigating unauthorised deposits on land at Ballycomey, Castlecomer.

Staff from the environment section of the local authority visited a site in January and discovered deposits of what, from a visual inspection, appeared to be construction waste.

Officials issued a statutory notice under the waste management laws, requiring that dumping of material stop immediately and called for a report to be submitted to the council detailing the type, quantity and origin of the waste materials already deposited. The unauthorised dumping has since stopped.

"We are still pursuing the details of the type, origin and quantity of waste and will continue to pursue this matter until any activities associated with the site are consistent with statutory requirements," a council spokesman added.

Green welcome

Cllr Mary White of the Green Party welcomed the initiative and asked that the matter be pursued to ensure a report be submitted by the people involved.

"Tests should be carried out to determine categorically what kind of material is buried there," she told the Kilkenny People. "We would also like to know where this material came from." Cllr Malcolm Noonan, a Green Party member of Kilkenny Co Council, pointed out that Section 55 of the Waste Management Act 1996-05 gives Kilkenny County Council wide-ranging powers in relation to the holding, recovery and disposal of waste.

"The main thrust of this section of the act gives the local authority power to act in order to prevent or limit environmental pollution caused, or likely to be caused, by the holding, recovery or disposal of waste," he said.

"If the person, upon whom the notice has been served, fails to comply within the specified time period, the local authority may take steps as it considers reasonable and necessary to secure compliance with the notice, and may recover any expense incurred from the person." He added that the law can instruct the person to remove the waste, dispose it in a specified manner or at a specified facility and to treat the affected lands. Failure to comply with a notice under this section is an offence.


Cllr Noonan noted that Kilkenny County Council has clear powers to oblige the contractors to dispose of the materials in a safe and environmentally sound manner, regardless of cost.

"I would urge the contractors to immediately submit plans to Kilkenny County Council to remediate the site and ensure that they are in full compliance with regard to the transportation and disposal of such waste in relation to the waste management act," he said.

"Much of what is often considered inert construction and demolition waste is often likely to contain hazardous materials and should based on the precautionary principle be subject to the same regulations as other waste streams.

"The council has a due responsibility as the lead authority for the issuing of waste permits to ensure that all waste streams are accounted for within its jurisdiction." he pointed out.

Copyright 2007 Johnston Press Digital Publishing.


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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