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Oil-by-rail facilities in Canada are not required to undergo environmental assessments, but they should be, in order to address public safety and environmental concerns, say community groups.
"Every day unassessed oil-by-rail facilities put communities across the country at risk," said Charles Hatt, Ecojustice lawyer. "With a stroke of her pen, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change has the power to fix this blind spot in our law and require all oil-by-rail projects undergo an environmental assessment before they are built or expanded."
Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Greenpeace and Safe Rail Communities, are calling on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to designate all oil-by-rail facilities for an environmental assessment -- allowing for public safety concerns and environmental impacts to be addressed.
"Canada's capacity for shipping and receiving oil-by-rail has swelled in recent years, but no project has undergone a federal environmental assessment that looks at public safety issues or environmental impacts," said Helen Vassilakos, Safe Rail Communities. "We're asking the Minister of Environment for one small change that could make rail communities across the country safer."
Since 2013, approximately a dozen oil trains have exploded in the United States and Canada alone, including the tragic explosion and fire in Lac Megantic, Quebec that left 47 people dead. It is estimated that oil train traffic has grown from approximately 500 rail cars in 2009 to 140,000 cars in 2014.
"Oil train traffic has increased exponentially in recent years, and with it has come a rise in the number of explosive derailments. They present a huge risk to our environment and the communities that lie along these tracks," said Keith Stewart, Greenpeace. "The Minister must act to safeguard our communities and our environment by ensuring oil-by-rail projects are assessed for their potential impacts."
As Canada's only national environmental law charity, Ecojustice is building the case for a better earth.
"This law shows that states are a key part of ensuring that communities are safe from PFAS," one advocate said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday signed into law the broadest ban on dangerous "forever chemicals" in the nation.
The ban forms part of H.F. 2310—an omnibus environment bill—and is one of the many new policies to come out of what progressives say is a "transformational" legislative session for the state. Minnesota is now the first of any U.S. state to prohibit per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) in menstrual products, dental floss, cleaning supplies, and cooking equipment.
"Minnesota is at the forefront of addressing the PFAS and toxic chemical crisis," Safer States national director Sarah Doll said in a statement. "This law shows that states are a key part of ensuring that communities are safe from PFAS."
"PFAS was developed in Minnesota, and it's powerful that it ends here, too."
PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been used by industry since the 1940s. They are common in firefighting foam and stick-, stain-, grease-, and water-resistant products. However, they have spread extensively throughout the environment and human bodies where they do not break down—hence the moniker "forever chemicals." This is a problem because they have also been linked to an expanding list of health concerns including cancer, immune suppression, reproductive and developmental issues, and thyroid and liver ailments.
"Documentation proves that manufacturers knew as early as 1950 that PFAS was toxic and yet products that contained it were promoted and sold to make a profit," Clean Water Watch Minnesota state director Avonna Starck said in a statement. "PFAS was developed in Minnesota, and it's powerful that it ends here, too."
The new law closes a loophole in a 2019 law banning PFAS in firefighting foam, bans PFAS in certain products beginning in 2025, mandates that manufacturers disclose the use of PFAS by 2026, and bans the chemicals in all products not essential for public health by 2032. The legislation, which passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support on May 19, targets 13 different product categories—the most of any state in the nation. In addition to firefighting foam, menstrual products, dental floss, cookware, and cleaning supplies, no one can sell PFAS-containing food packaging, cosmetics, textiles, carpets, fabric treatments, upholstered furniture, children's products, and ski wax.
"This is the first step of the major changes needed to protect families and our environmental legacy," state Rep. Jeff Brand (D-18A), who contributed language to the new law, said in a statement.
\u201cNon-essential uses of #PFAS in Minnesota will be eliminated thanks to the passage of HF 1000. \n\nThis is the dawn of a new era for human health and environment protection in Minnesota, and across the nation.\n\nA classic tale of corporate greed vs. government intervention.\u201d— Jeff Brand (@Jeff Brand) 1684508640
Minnesota's law builds and expands on PFAS regulations in other states, Safer States pointed out, including specific use bans passed by California, Colorado, and Washington, and a disclosure law passed in Maine in 2021. But it also has a state-specific origin.
The bill was championed by Amarah Strande, a young woman who grew up near a 3M PFAS disposal facility and was diagnosed with a rare cancer when she was 15, an experience she shared with other classmates at Tartan Senior High School.
"I've spent the last five years fighting cancer with every ounce of my being," she said in January. "And I will for the rest of my life. Corporations must stop the production of these toxins and be held accountable and pay for the damage they've done. Through no fault of my own, I was exposed to these toxic chemicals. And as a result, I will die with this cancer."
Strande's prediction came true four months later—she died in April two days before her 21st birthday. The PFAS regulations have been named "Amara's Law" in her honor.
\u201cWe are grateful for the bipartisan support to pass the PFAS Prevention Package, now known as "Amara's Law."\n\nWe will keep working to create a comprehensive legislative agenda to continue protecting MN's waters.#mnleg \nhttps://t.co/mSfORWDVQP\u201d— Clean Water Action MN (@Clean Water Action MN) 1684854140
"Amara testified not because of her own situation but because she believed she could be a voice for her community," her father Michael Strande said in a statement. "Amara was an advocate for those who were sick and suffering with a disease or illness brought about from these dangerous chemicals. Dana, Nora, and I are grateful for the legislators who made the bold choice to pass Amara's Law. This law will protect the people of Minnesota for generations to come."
"Total's record-breaking profits come at a steep cost: environmental devastation, human rights abuses, and climate chaos," said one advocacy group. "It's time to hold them accountable for their insatiable pursuit of wealth!"
Climate campaigners marched through central Paris Friday in the latest attempt to disrupt a shareholder meeting held by a major fossil fuel company, demanding that oil giant TotalEnergies adopt a resolution to sharply increase the pace of its greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Advocacy groups including 350.org, Greenpeace, Scientist Rebellion, and Friends of the Earth France joined a reported 700 demonstrators outside the Salle Pleyel, the venue of Total's annual general meeting, with campaigners chanting, "All we want is to knock down Total" and "One, two, three degrees, we have Total to thank"—a reference to planetary heating and scientists' warnings that fossil fuel extraction must be drastically reduced in order to keep warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Banners carried by the protesters read, "The science is clear but Total is ignoring it" and "Floods, heatwaves, drought, pandemics: The world according to Total."
\u201cBlocage Total! @350France joins over 700 climate activists block @TotalEnergies 's AGM today to protest against its climate wrecking projects and massive profits.\n\n\ud83d\udcf7Claire Jaillard / @350\n\n#BlocageTotal #PeoplesHealthTribunal\u201d— 350 dot org (@350 dot org) 1685090522
Police targeted the demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray, with some people being dragged away from the Salle Pleyel—moves that were condemned as "outrageous" by the campaign group Stop East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), of which Total is the lead shareholder.
"Police resorted to extreme measures, dropping a tear gas grenade amidst a group of peaceful, seated, handcuffed activists at Total's AGM blockade," said the group. "This excessive force against non-violent individuals is utterly unacceptable!"
\u201c\ud83d\udea8 Outrageous! \ud83d\ude21 Police resorted to extreme measures, dropping a tear gas grenade amidst a group of peaceful, seated, handcuffed activists at Total's AGM blockade. This excessive force against non-violent individuals is utterly unacceptable! \ud83d\ude20 #BlocageTotal #StopEACOP\u201d— StopEACOP (@StopEACOP) 1685085784
Inside the meeting, the Dutch activist shareholder group Follow This pushed investors in Total to adopt a resolution committing the company to include Scope 3 emissions—those caused by the burning of Total's products by customers, such as airlines, or drivers—in its 2030 emissions targets and steeper absolute emissions cuts.
The resolution garnered the support of about 30% of shareholders, nearly doubling its support in 2020, the last time such a proposal was put forward. Seventeen investors who control a total of $1.2 million in the company voted in support of the resolution.
Follow This CEO Mark van Baal, whose group's motto is "Change from the inside," called the vote "a great outcome" and evidence of a growing "shareholder rebellion."
"One-third of investors say Total needs to decrease emissions by 2030 and that they can't hide behind their customers by saying Scope 3 emissions are not the company's responsibility," he toldFrance24.
The final vote on Total's climate pledge, however, approved emissions cuts only at the company's directly-owned facilities and garnered more than 88% of shareholder votes.
Greenpeace France on Friday acknowledged that Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher toldFrance Info radio as the meeting convened that fossil fuel companies will have no future unless they shift to renewable energy and urged companies including Total to "re-invent themselves."
"But you know that these companies won't do anything without legal constraint," said the group. "We therefore expect strong political acts."
In the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2022 report, scientists said the world needs to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 43% from 2019 levels by 2030 in order to meet the Paris climate agreement's target of limiting planetary heating to less than 2°C.
As scientists and advocates have demanded companies including Total reduce their emissions, the company reported a net profit of $36.2 billion in 2022, doubling its earnings in the previous year.
"This isn't just a talking point; it's a real issue for people we work with every day," wrote Sarah Drory. "Restricting abortion—and creating a culture where people can't speak up about their experiences—hurts everyone."
Sarah Drory, Congressman Ro Khanna's deputy communications director, had an abortion—and with that healthcare under threat and widely stigmatized, she chose to share her story with the world.
"I was grateful to have the option to take the abortion pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, at home—a way to make this painful experience more bearable," Drory wrote Thursday for Elle. "I desperately wanted support, but I was worried about how it would be perceived."
"Of all places, I never thought I would bring it up at work," the California Democrat's staffer continued, noting that "on Capitol Hill, it often feels like there is immense pressure to be professional—and even perfect," and "I am also painfully aware of the stigma that exists around abortion."
As Drory detailed:
I watch day after day as Republican lawmakers, with whom I share elevators and hallways, attack abortion rights on social media, cable news, and in floor speeches. Even lawmakers who support abortion typically only bring it up in the context of policy; I rarely hear it talked about from a personal perspective among staff or members of Congress. And when they are talking about policy, it's common for politicians—including Democrats—to use euphemisms like 'reproductive rights' and 'women's healthcare,' which only adds to the stigma and the shame. Because of this environment, it felt like there wasn't space for me to share my experience with other staffers or even friends at work.
Since the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organizationruling leaked last May, a growing number of people in politics have spoken about their abortions. On Roe v. Wade's 50th anniversary in January, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.)—who shared her abortion story just before Dobbs—said that "the chaos we've seen over the past six months is the environment anti-abortion politicians have worked for decades to create, and they won't stop with Roe."
The high court's Roe reversal has further emboldened right-wing activists and politicians, who are trying to use the legal system to cut off access to mifepristone nationwide and have passed state-level bans that physicians warn endanger patients' lives.
"Once I saw these restrictions, the toll on my mental health was overwhelming," Drory explained. "Physically and emotionally recovering from my abortion was difficult on its own, but being plugged into the news at work nearly every day was a scary reminder that access to abortion for me and millions of others could be threatened at any moment."
\u201cThis is an amazing piece in @ELLEmagazine by @sarah_drory on having an abortion while working in Congress and the wonderful support her boss, @RoKhanna, and colleagues offered her.\n\nThank you for sharing your story, Sarah!\nhttps://t.co/sdEyaBIbOw\u201d— Renee Bracey Sherman (@Renee Bracey Sherman) 1685103703
"So, I decided to tell my boss, Congressman Khanna. The congressman and my colleagues were nothing but supportive and empathetic, and it made me wish I had spoken up sooner and leaned on people around me for support," she wrote. "I'm fortunate to work for a member of Congress who not only cares deeply about our well-being but also offers generous sick leave, mental health days, and flex time for therapy appointments."
Drory—who also does communications work for the Congressional Workers Union—stressed that "I shared my story, because it's essential that, across Congress, we figure out ways to support our colleagues who have had abortions or are more generally struggling with their mental health."
"As congressional staff and members of Congress continue to help shape the national conversation around abortion, it's important to remember that this isn't just a talking point; it's a real issue for people we work with every day," she concluded. "Restricting abortion—and creating a culture where people can’t speak up about their experiences—hurts everyone. Building a nation that trusts people to choose their own healthcare—and supports them in telling their stories—is how we start to heal."
Khanna—who has received 100% ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPFA) for his voting record—was among those who thanked Drory for her essay in Elle.
\u201cI\u2019m so grateful to work in an office where these conversations are possible.\n\nThanks to @_madisonline and @ELLEmagazine for helping me share my story.\u201d— Sarah Drory (@Sarah Drory) 1685049582
U.S. Senate Budget Committee researcher Aria Kovalovich wrote: "Thanks to my friend and former colleague... for sharing her story. Abortion isn't just a talking point; it's personal. Managers can tackle the stigma that makes it difficult to talk about mental health in Congress."
PPFA president Alexis McGill Johnson said she was "endlessly grateful to Sarah Drory for her bravery in sharing her abortion story," and that "everyone deserves a workplace... as supportive and empathetic as Rep. Ro Khanna's."