While the country collectively struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic, some industries are using the crisis as cover to push their agendas forward and demand environmental protections get out of the way. The lobby group representing the Ontario aggregate industry is calling for the government to eliminate rules that protect natural areas from new gravel pits and quarries.
The aggregate industry lobbyists are demanding that rules protecting important environmental areas, called Natural Heritage Systems, be gutted. These areas are currently protected from new developments because they’re home to endangered species and their critical habitats. Our planet is currently in a biodiversity crisis, so these protections are more important now than they ever were before. Habitat loss is the number one threat to endangered species, so all rules to protect their habitat must remain intact.
Another attack on Ontario species at risk
The aggregate industry says the rules protecting Natural Heritage Systems (NHS) aren’t needed because the industry already needs to meet the standards of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They neglect to mention that Ontario’s ESA was gutted last year. The ESA has now been reduced to rubble and is ineffective at protecting species in Ontario. Those changes came at the call of similar demands by the aggregates industry and sprawl developers.
On top of this, the Ontario government recently made several changes to the industry’s main set of rules – the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). Now aggregate operations can dig under the water table, regardless of whether the local municipality disagrees. This can threaten the drinking water supply for towns and cities, and providing safe drinking water is the municipality’s job. The threat is so serious that municipalities asked to be abdicated of responsibility if or when below water table operations contaminate the drinking water.
Nature calms in times of crisis
For many, nature is a solace in times of crisis and uncertainty. Natural heritage, and “Natural Heritage Systems” are just fancy terms for the beautiful and environmentally important natural spaces across our province. These are areas that many are exploring and appreciating even more now, because being in nature, while practicing physical distancing, calms our nerves and grounds us.
The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us that along with caring for each other, caring for nature is of the utmost importance. Habitat destruction and biodiversity loss make us more vulnerable to pandemics, not to mention how a connection to nature helps people in times of stress. That’s why we won’t tolerate the gutting of environmental rules that protect nature and keep our communities resilient and beautiful.
If you are able, we hope you will also consider making a donation to help us continue our work in protecting our environment and the health of your family and friends.