Dr. Karen Dodds (Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment):
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to discuss Environment Canada's plans for ozone monitoring.
With me today is Dr. Charles Lin, who holds a Ph.D. in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He's had a distinguished career as an academic researcher at both the University of Toronto and McGill. At McGill, he served as chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences before he joined Environment Canada as director general of atmospheric science and technology.
Before going into specifics on the ozone monitoring program, I would like to give you some background on science and research at Environment Canada.
To support the regulatory, programmatic, and service functions of Environment Canada, which includes our work in protecting the environment and forecasting the weather, we do a great deal of environmental science. About half of the 7,000 people in the department are involved in science. Indeed, Environment Canada is the seventh largest producer of environmental science in the world, and the largest outside of the United States.
Our scientists do applied research in scientific monitoring in direct support of the department's mission. That's how we prioritize our science and research and how we allocate our resources. We don't do curiosity-based research, as many academic researchers do.
This brings me to ozone monitoring.
First, despite what you may have read, Environment Canada has made no changes to ozone monitoring.
We are planning to make some changes, because we believe we can do so in a way that's consistent with our mandate and makes better use of taxpayers' dollars. I understand that a number of academic scientists use the data we currently collect to support their research, and we're very happy to share our data. But the needs and interests of academic research cannot be the determining factor in how we allocate and use our scientific resources. Much of the work our scientists do is in collaboration with other scientists in Canada and around the world. Our scientists are always encouraged to disseminate and discuss their scientific findings in a timely way for the public good. This is demonstrated on a daily basis through the publication of their scientific findings in peer-reviewed journals and through presentations at conferences.
Environment Canada is committed to continuing our monitoring of water and air quality, including our monitoring of ozone.
Ozone in the upper atmosphere protects the earth's surface and humans from harmful UV radiation from the sun by absorbing radiation. Ozone at ground level is a component of smog and is considered harmful to human health and the environment.
The Montreal Protocol, which took action against ozone-depleting substances and was agreed to in 1987, has been very successful. The Canadian ozone science document released by Environment Canada in 2007 noted that, because of the success of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer no longer appears to be thinning and is expected to return to its 1970s levels later this century. The World Meteorological Organization updated that 2007 report with an ozone assessment in 2010. This confirmed the finding, and emphasized the maturity of this issue. However, both of these documents indicate that there are uncertainties about the verification of ozone recovery and the influence of other factors such as climate change.
Overall, both documents support Environment Canada's position to continue ozone monitoring in the upper atmosphere. I would like to make it clear that Environment Canada will continue to monitor ozone in the upper atmosphere, also known as stratospheric ozone, in order for Canada to meet its obligations for the surveillance of ozone and the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
In 2011, Environment Canada has not reduced the frequency with which it monitors stratospheric ozone or the number of sites at which we take measurements. The monitoring is conducted via two complementary monitoring methods. First, there is the ozonesonde method, which measures the vertical distribution of ozone concentrations in the atmosphere. Second, there is the Brewer method, which measures the total thickness of the ozone layer.
As a result of our continuing efforts to make the best use of the public funds allocated to us, Environment Canada managers are working closely with their scientists to define the optimal and integrated ozone monitoring network for the upper atmosphere. The guiding principles are to ensure scientific integrity; to recognize our commitments, such as supporting the validation and dissemination of the UV, or ultraviolet, index; to maintain critical long-term ozone-trend information; to facilitate the validation of satellite data; and to continue surveillance of ozone holes. This optimization will be carried out with scientific rigour and will ensure the quality assurance and quality control of ozone data.
In addition, Environment Canada will continue to manage the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre. That centre is an international data archive in which all government-obtained observations of ozone and ultraviolet radiation are reported.
Environment Canada is proposing to better integrate the data centre with our updated data management processes. The department will provide staff with enough time to manage the WOUDC at a level comparable to that of other resources. Moreover, scientific oversight of the data centre will continue.
Canada has had a strong ozone measurement program for many years. Many of our measurement methods are now used globally and were pioneered by Canadian scientists. These measurements will continue, but they will be delivered under a different program and data-management model. Let me assure you and all Canadians that ozone monitoring and our continued management of the database remain a priority for Environment Canada and that there will continue to be investment in these areas.
Scientists in our department conduct research and related scientific activities in order to better understand wildlife, biodiversity, water, air, soil, climate, and environmental prediction and environmental technologies. I am very proud and pleased to lead this world-class group of scientists who carry out Environment Canada's mandate and sincerely serve Canadians every day.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss our ozone monitoring initiatives with you this morning.
Mr. James Lunney (Nanaimo—Alberni, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Ms. Dodds, and Dr. Lin. I appreciate your being here to answer some questions. There has been a lot of interest or speculation about changes at Environment Canada, especially in relation to the ozone program. I want to clarify a couple of concerns.
My first question is about the two methods for monitoring ozone, at the ground and stratospheric levels. First, there is a question about streamlining. Some think the two methods could be integrated. I think you have already addressed that in your remarks. There is also some confusion about the two points. The media are speculating that perhaps government is implying that we don't need to maintain both of these networks. I guess there's an implication that one or the other isn't necessary. At any rate, there's some confusion about it.
You were reported by the media to have said some things that might have implied we were eliminating one or the other of these important instruments. Could you clarify that for us and tell us how the streamlining is envisioned by the department?
Dr. Karen Dodds:
Thanks for the question.
Indeed, the two methods are complementary and measure different things. The Brewer instrument is a land-based instrument. It sits on the ground and measures the total thickness of the ozone layer going up; while ozonesondes, which go up with a weather balloon, measure the ozone concentration as a function of altitude.
So the two methods are complementary. We use them also in collaboration or in combination with data from satellites, which we obtain from other sources, to then estimate, measure, predict, and monitor ozone as it's changing day in and day out, week in and week out across Canada.
Mr. James Lunney:
Thank you for clarifying that.
I want to ask questions about the ozone itself and its monitoring, particularly tropospheric monitoring. The ozone is at ground level, and then there's the first 50 kilometres, and then stratospheric ozone is way up there in the upper levels of the atmosphere. I'm curious about some of the information that's provided for us by our excellent researchers here at the Library of Parliament, our analysts, about ozone production in the upper atmosphere. It's said that UV light interacts with oxygen molecules and breaks up some of the O2s, releases some oxygen atoms that react, forming the ozone in the upper layers.
I notice here that this production is higher in equatorial regions. It seems to me that's what the information indicates. It's like shooting at a dart board, in my thinking—and correct me if I'm wrong on this—and that when UV light is striking the centre of the earth, it's on target for a bull's eye and you're getting more heating of the atmosphere and greater production of ozone at these equatorial regions, but that at the polar regions, where you're hitting the periphery of the atmosphere, you're getting less ozone production. Is that correct?
Maybe that's for Dr. Lin.
Mr. Scott Vaughan (Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada):
Mr. Chair, thank you.
I am pleased to present my December 2011 report, which was tabled in the House of Commons this morning. The report today covers three audits, two studies, and the annual report on environmental petitions.
With me at the table are Bruce Sloan and Andrew Ferguson. As well, I'm joined by several colleagues, including Neil Maxwell, the Assistant Auditor General, and Jim McKenzie.
Environmental stewardship is complex. It must be supported by scientific knowledge, environmental monitoring and effective enforcement. In addition to examining science at Environment Canada, this report discusses weaknesses in the enforcement of federal regulations, and identifies improvements needed to enforce federal laws and regulations.
Our first audit looked at how Transport Canada and the National Energy Board determine whether companies required to do so comply with regulations governing the movement of dangerous goods within Canada. Good oversight of regulatory compliance is necessary to protect public safety and the environment.
We found that Transport Canada and the National Energy Board need to improve their oversight of regulated companies and organizations. Where deficiencies have been identified, they have done little follow-up to ensure that corrective measures have been taken.
Transport Canada does not know to what extent organizations transporting dangerous goods are complying with regulations. It has given temporary approval for roughly half of the emergency response plans required to transport the most dangerous regulated goods, such as types of ammonia and acids. Temporary approvals are subject to less verification. Some have been in place for 10 years or more. Many of the weaknesses we found in Transport Canada were identified more than five years ago and have yet to be fixed.
The National Energy Board has not appropriately monitored whether emergency procedures manuals prepared by regulated companies meet established expectations. It has yet to review the manuals of 32 companies. Where it has conducted reviews and identified deficiencies, there was little indication that it followed up to verify that the companies had taken corrective action.
In our audit of environmental science, we found that Environment Canada's systems and practices to ensure the quality of its science activities are consistent with those generally used in the scientific community. They include peer reviews and other approaches used by world-class research institutions to ensure quality research, as well as various means of communicating scientific information to decision makers.
It is important for Environment Canada to identify and focus on those science activities critical to the Canadian public interest. Few organizations, aside from the federal government, have the capacity to carry out credible, long-term environmental research and monitoring at the national level.
In 2007, the department developed a plan that set out the long-term directions of its science activities. Now Environment Canada needs to put the plan into practice. A department-wide plan for science is more urgent than ever in this period of fiscal restraint.
In the third audit, we looked at Environment Canada's enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. We found that the department does not know how much its enforcement activities have encouraged compliance, and minimized damage and threats to the environment. Enforcement actions have been limited by long-standing problems with regulations, inadequate training of enforcement officers, and lack of laboratory tests to verify compliance.
Environment Canada is missing key information on those it regulates. This information would help it target those organizations whose damages pose the greatest risk of environmental damage as a result of non-compliance. Also, the department has not followed up on half of its enforcement actions to verify that violators are now complying with regulations.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is an important part of protecting the health of Canadians and the quality of the environment. I am concerned that shortcomings in key management systems have impeded the effective enforcement of the act. Some of the shortcomings identified in this report were noted over a decade ago by this committee.
The first of the two studies identifies some of the key challenges and principles related to sustainable fisheries. The Office of the Auditor General has issued studies in the past to provide information to parliamentarians. The decline in some major stocks of fish in Canada highlights the need to better understand trends and to promote sustainable fisheries management. Fisheries managers face a difficult combination of environmental, social, economic, and organizational changes.
The study provides examples of current and emerging practices here in Canada and internationally to help build sustainable fisheries. Key practices include respecting ecological limits to protect future fish stocks, and defining clear roles and responsibilities.
Our second study identifies more than 90 environmental monitoring systems that provide Canadians every day with a wide range of information, from local weather and air and water quality, to data on wildlife and biodiversity.
Environmental monitoring is necessary to know whether the quality of our environment is getting better or worse. The information the government collects serves many users, including municipal planners, resource managers, and Canadian families.
Mr. Chair, the final chapter is the annual report on environmental petitions. This year we received 25 petitions dealing with a range of topics.
Mr. Chair, thank you again for inviting us. There are a number of important subjects covered in this annual report, and the committee may wish to follow up by looking at a specific chapter or specific topics in future meetings. We are of course always ready to make our work and ourselves available to the committee in support of your important work.
I'm now happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank you all for your tremendous work in your comprehensive report, for the time you took and your effort and attention to detail.
I believe effective enforcement is essential if environmental legislation is to be complied with. I think there has been criticism from academia, civil society, and the media regarding perhaps the government's unwillingness to crack down on environmental offences. Results matter, rather than just commitment.
I'm wondering what the publicly available information regarding inspections, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions tells us about how the environment is being protected and how damage to the environment is being minimized.
Mr. Scott Vaughan:
Thank you for the question.
I would say, first of all, that we have access powers through the Auditor General Act, so I can't speak on what's publicly available. What I could say is that in the two chapters in which we looked at enforcement-related matters, we identified similar weaknesses among the three different departments. So there were similar weaknesses in Transport Canada, Environment Canada, and the NEB, and these were long-standing. This committee identified 13 years ago many of the issues we've raised today. Transport Canada did its own analysis five years ago.
Among those issues is that inspectors will go out and find a problem, or they'll take note of a problem that a company has mentioned, but then there is no follow-up. For NEB, there was no follow-up in 93% of the cases where a deficiency was found; for Transport Canada, 73% of the time there was no follow-up; and Environment Canada did better with a little over 50%.
But if you don't follow up, you don't know if the problem has been fixed. You literally just do not know whether all the effort and resources that have gone into doing the inspection have solved the problem or not. When you find a problem, you want to know if it's been fixed. That was one issue.
There are others, including gaps in training, gaps in laboratory capacity, and gaps in doing coherent risk assessment. Being able to evaluate where the biggest risks are is particularly important now with shrinking budgets. You can't regulate thousands and thousands of different enterprises to find out what the biggest risks are. We found weaknesses in all three entities in the risk assessment.
Mr. Scott Vaughan:
This was not an audit, but a study. It was intended to complement the science audit.
We've had many questions, including questions from this committee and, for example, from the previous chair, as to how many environmental monitoring systems exist, what they look like, what departments run them, what they do, what they cover, and what geographic areas they have covered.
We went back, and the last time an inventory was done was 20 years ago. We didn't audit whether or not there were duplication and gaps, or how they're run. I think it is important to provide this information to parliamentarians so they can ask how these systems are working and whether there are potential gaps.
We do mention in the study two areas where there are gaps. One is in the north, and that's almost across the board. The second area is biodiversity data, and that would be across the country. On biodiversity data there are important gaps that have been long-standing.
Mrs. Stella Ambler (Mississauga South, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would agree with Ms. Duncan that enforcement is critical in the area of environmental protection. My concern today, though, is about the report's failure to give due weight to the many accomplishments of the enforcement branch of Environment Canada.
During the period covered by this audit, the Government of Canada made, I believe, significant and progressive funding and budgetary investments to enhance the ability of Environment Canada's enforcement branch to do its good work. I'm referring to the recently passed Environmental Enforcement Act, which strengthens environmental enforcement by increasing the fines, sentencing provisions, and the enforcement tools of the acts administered by Environment Canada and Parks Canada.
As I'm sure you know, Commissioner, the Environmental Enforcement Act establishes tough new penalties for offenders, including greatly increased maximum fines of $1 million for individuals and $6 million for large corporations. There are also additional fines for benefits derived from an offence and other aggravating factors. Corporate officials can be held individually liable, which I believe is a huge step forward. And, of course, my personal favourite is minimum sentences for serious offences.
During the audit period, the enforcement branch conducted thousands of inspections, and many investigations led to successful actions, including prosecutions, against violators. A $3 million award was imposed when Syncrude Canada was convicted of violating environmental laws. Those charges were related to the deaths of 1,600 migratory birds in the company's Aurora settling basin, or tailings pond, in 2008.
Second, Suncor pleaded guilty and was fined $200,000 for violation of the Fisheries Act. It released effluent from sedimentation ponds into the Steepbank River, north of Fort McMurray.
Third was the seizure in Montreal of over $1 million worth of illegally imported ozone-depleting substances used in the refrigeration industry.
Fourth, Public Works and Governments Services Canada made a contribution of $50,000 to the environmental damages fund for violations of federal halocarbon regulations under CEPA in 1999.
I consider all of these to be significant accomplishments of this government, which speak to our commitment to enforcement in the area of the environment as it relates to the health of Canadians affected by environmental violators.
Is it still your belief that the enforcement program has not been well managed?
Mr. Scott Vaughan:
Thank you very much for the questions, Chair.
I'll say just two things. On the changes, which the honourable member has outlined, and the new schedule of penalties and increased maximum thresholds for the penalties, we weren't able to audit those, because they are not yet in force. They've been announced, but they haven't gone out. That's my understanding.
In terms of whether we stand by our overall conclusions, nothing would please me more than to say that I think this system is working well at Environment Canada. This is an important institution, with dedicated people. But the budget increase in 2007, for example, was intended to increase the number of inspections per year, and the number of inspections has actually remained steady or has dropped a bit between 2007 and now.