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Editorial: Heavy fuel ban pits environment vs. economics

Nunavut is now coming face to face with a conundrum that is being felt one way or another in communities across Canada: balancing environmental protection with economic realities.

In southern parts of the country there is currently a crisis gripping the nation as railways and legislatures are being blockaded by those protesting in solidarity with First Nation chiefs in B.C. opposing a pipeline being routed through their land.

Although vastly different, an environmental conflict is brewing in traditionally Inuit waters and communities where heavy fuel oils commonly used by sealifts face a ban for the sake of environmental protection which will result in an increased cost of living for Nunavummiut.

A ban on sulphur-heavy marine fuel has already come into effect and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Inuit Circumpolar Council, the International Maritime Organization and politicians such as Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson have expressed support for a larger ban on all heavy fuel oils.

Generally speaking, the banning of polluting and emission-heavy fuels is a largely positive development. It is a concrete step towards a greener future and is the latest iteration of our federal government taking action on climate change.

Looking back, Canada really has come a long way from the days of mining companies blasting holes into the ground without thought toward local wildlife and habitats. In the not-so-distant past, there were no environmental regulations for mines, no remediation stipulations, no Indigenous or Inuit involvement, just tailing ponds full of chemicals and dangerous metals left to leak out and contaminate the tundra.

These environmental crimes, perpetrated across the country, were terrible and many are still paying the price for them today.

We should be thankful to have come as far as we have, but where our collective environmental aspirations meet reality is usually at the bottom line.

The heavy fuel ban is expected to increase the cost of household goods, vehicles and even electricity by as much as 11 per cent total which translates to $679 per household per year.
The global sulphur ban, which came into effect Jan. 1, is expected to increase community resupply costs by nine to 12 per cent.

In a territory where food insecurity and poverty are still major issues, the increase is significant and will result in more pressure on families who contend with some of the world's highest cost of living.

Decisions like these are just a taste of what is to come, especially if the prime minister plans on meeting his promises to get communities off of diesel energy.

Though seemingly necessary, these costs should not hastily be thrust upon Nunavummiut, especially when it is not clear that consultations even took place to begin with. Why is it that it's only now that news of the fuel ban is coming to light?

Recently the ICC and NTI released a joint statement that called upon the government to help subsidize the increasing costs and it is warranted, but if these organizations are so willing to put their weight behind this legislation, they should also be a part of the efforts to remedy the consequences.

In an age where it will take nothing short of a collective nationwide effort to curb climate change, affected communities should be the first informed and consulted about how solutions will impact them.