The Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain (CCAR) was formed in 1981 and became what was then the largest single-issue coalition in the nation’s history. It ended up playing a key role in raising awareness of the acid rain issue, lobbying the governments of both Canada and the United States for the passage of legislation restricting acid rain-causing emissions and running various educational programs in Canada.
Just 26 years old at the time, Adèle Hurley teamed up with fellow Canadian Michael Perley to help found the CCAR and act as its chief lobbyists and executive co-ordinators. With the passage of amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act in November 1990, the establishment of the Acid Rain Program and commensurate regulatory action on the Canadian side, the group was disbanded.
Since then, Hurley has been heavily involved in a variety of cross-border air and water issues. She has served as the Canadian co-chair of the International Joint Commission which oversees the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 between Canada and the United States, as well as the director of the Program on Water Issues at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
She was awarded the 2017 Corporate Knights Award of Distinction in June for her tireless efforts to protect Canada’s natural resources. Below is the full transcript of her acceptance speech.
Good evening everyone! I’d like to thank the Board of Corporate Knights for this award and for the opportunity to say a few words at this evening’s Gala. And I’d also like to thank the Honourable Jim Bradley for his kind introduction. Those of us who have watched him in a variety of portfolios over the years know him to be a modest, hardworking politician who knows much, says little and then goes out and gets results.
I’ve spent the last 16 years working on water issues such as the prevention of bulk water export, the impact of fracking on groundwater, the need to protect groundwater from overuse and contamination and various Canada/U.S. transboundary water challenges. And, although these are vitally important to Canada, I’m not going to talk about them this evening.
Instead, I would like to focus on the lessons learned from an issue I was closely involved in 35 years ago – Acid Rain – which, believe it or not, was at one time the number one Canada/U.S. bilateral issue. I will end by briefly talking about an issue that consumes me (and no doubt many of you in this room): climate change.
I thought I would begin by sharing a little story about something that happened as the CCAR was winding down in the fall of 1990. At that time the Coalition had achieved one of its major goals – the passage of amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen from coal-fired utilities.
A journalist asked me and my colleague, Michael Perley, with whom I’d worked for almost a decade, the following question – “So, you two have been at this a long time. What have you learned? What is your takeaway message?”
By now, Michael and I were pretty used to doing interviews. But we weren’t prepared for this question.
We looked at one another and slowly Michael said “Well, you know, at the end of day I would have to say, the system worked.”
I agreed. The system worked. And at that point, we paused and just kind of savoured the moment.
We knew what we meant. And it was that, despite being up against a determined anti-environment administration south of the border and a free-spending electricity and coal lobby, the tools of a healthy democracy and civil society were there for us when we needed them.
Looking back, we could see that the gears of the machinery for tackling a bilateral air and water issue like Acid Rain sometimes slipped but eventually engaged and allowed us to move forward.
In hindsight, we realized we had four important tools: 1) world class science, 2) a number of well-supported and talent-filled media outlets, 3) a reliable group of three federal and provincial elected officials who understood the Canadian voter’s desire for non-partisan cooperation, and 4) a citizenry that trusted the science from our universities and government agencies, and expected nothing less than action, based on that public science. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on these tools.
As someone who believes that ‘everything starts with the science’, we were blessed in the Acid Rain campaign. We had University of Toronto ecologist, Dr. Harold Harvey and world-renowned limnologist, Dr. David Schindler at the world class Experimental Lakes Area in Northern Ontario. They were publicly-funded scientists. They were accessible. They often answered their own phones while somehow managing to write up peer-reviewed results that would eventually form part of the record during their testimony at Parliamentary and Legislative hearings in Canada, and before U.S. Congressional Committees.
When it came to media, there were a number of important outlets, including the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, Le Devoir, the Toronto Star, the CBC and, not be overlooked – the Barrie, Ontario TV station that covered “cottage country” and seemed to be in our offices on a weekly basis. These media outlets had science and environment beat reporters who had travel budgets, an end of day deadline, and fact-checkers on staff. Some of these reporters developed huge expertise on Acid Rain, had excellent sources in both countries and were quick to distinguish ‘facts’ from ‘spin’.
Then there were the critically important and strategically-positioned politicians at both the federal and provincial levels who grasped the science and the public mood and managed to rise above partisan politics. Over time, these politicians were able to increase research budgets, convene hearings and persuade colleagues of the benefits of emission control legislation that would ultimately restore air and water quality. That small, dedicated group of politicians is proof again that elections, and the calibre of those who run for public office, matters greatly.
While all of this was going on – while the scientists were collecting data and publishing scientific papers, and the media was covering the activities – both for and against emission controls – and Canadian politicians were learning about why they needed to act on Acid Rain, citizen organizations were building the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain.
The Coalition launched in 1980 with 12 member groups and eventually it grew to include 52 member groups, making it the largest single-issue coalition in the history of the country. It was basically a posse of potential victims of acid rain and included everyone from tourist outfitters to First Nations, Maple Syrup Producers, Angler and Hunter groups and Cottager Associations.
From the outset, the Coalition had clear goals and a Board that made some wise, early decisions:
- One was to form a coalition. A coalition was critical because it contained a variety of strengths that we could pivot and draw upon, depending on what we needed to achieve or whom we needed to persuade. For example, if we wanted to reach the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, it was useful to work through an organization like the Ontario Anglers and Hunters.
- Another decision was that the coalition would speak for itself, or be ‘its own mug’ as they say, rather than relying on government or professional paid lobbyists. This required opening and maintaining offices in Toronto and Washington, an expensive undertaking. Fortunately, we had a few Corporate Knights of our own – two of whom are with us this evening and who I’d like to invite to stand and be recognized.
- The former president of the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain, and past commodore of the Muskoka Lakes Association – Alan Hutton.
- And, the former president of the Canadian Acidic Precipitation Foundation (which was our fundraising arm) – Peter Love.
- Where things got interesting was the Coalition’s belief in the practice of engaging people according to their ‘enlightened self-interest’. In other words, talking to people about what mattered to them. Believing that all politics is local. Creating opportunities for some ‘face time’.
This sometimes led to unusual working situations for Michael and me. One day we might be talking to a Maple Sugar Bush forestry protection association in Quebec; another day, a tourist lodge operator on the French River in Ontario. Or we might be having an afternoon walk in a cemetery with the Daughters of Gettysburg who were justifiably worried about the effect of Acid Rain on memorials and grave stones from the Civil War.
Once, the Coalition rented a booth and hung out at the Pennsylvania Sportsman’s show for an entire week in order to distribute Acid Rain literature – all while air guns were going off overhead and dogs were practicing leaping into swimming pools to retrieve plastic ducks.
With Pennsylvania being the second largest emitter state (after Ohio), we felt we had to be there and were thrilled when, the following year, the hottest bumper sticker at the Sportsman’s show was “Acid Rain Burns My Bass!”
By now you’re thinking, but that was then. And this is now. Relatively speaking, the Acid Rain issue was manageable, almost quaint, compared to the climate change monster that is bearing down on us now. The two issues are totally different orders of magnitude. I agree.
Tackling Acid Rain required actions in two neighbouring countries; tackling Climate Change requires action on a global scale. But perhaps the two issues also share some remarkable similarities.
Our best efforts to deal with climate change already involve:
- The use of cutting edge science – think of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
- Media coverage of the issue – think of our ability to access information through traditional media outlets such as the Guardian newspaper, the internet and social media; and
- Coalition building – think of the International Climate Science Coalition or the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change.
The “system worked” for Acid Rain. Using the tools that were available to us at the time the Coalition (and other groups working on the issue) was able to build broad, multi-sectoral support for action to combat acid rain. Can we build similarly broad support for efforts to mitigate climate change? Can we get our own house in order, while asking others to do the same?
If we look back at the Acid Rain issue, it is somewhat ironic that one of most difficult acid rain emission control orders to obtain was not in the United States but right here in Ontario – it was the order on Ontario Hydro. The Canadian public was well on board when it came to cleaning up Canada’s 50 per cent share of the emissions that were causing Acid Rain but, it needs to be said, when it was Ontario’s turn, as someone once quipped, “not all the fossils were in the ground.”
We eventually got the control order on Ontario Hydro, but we learned an important lesson. While Canadians were fixated on what was happening south of the border, our own emission reduction schedule was in danger of slipping.
I mention this because in the past month – with almost no coverage – Canada pushed back implementation of its methane regulations on the oil and gas sector from the promised start in the year 2020 to 2023. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas – its Global Warming Potential is estimated to be between 21 and 72 times that of carbon dioxide. Canada’s delay in implementing its regulations on methane releases from the oil and gas industry will mean that we will emit an additional 55 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere before the regulations are in place.
Ironically, at roughly the same time as Canada was delaying its methane regulations, U.S. Senators managed to cobble together a 51 to 49 vote to keep in place a rule that regulates methane produced from oil and gas drilling on public lands. This was achieved because three Republican senators joined Democrats in upholding the Obama-era regulation.
Not every vote deserves a headline, but surely during these dark days of environmental protection in a fossil-fuel-soaked U.S. Senate this may be, as Leonard Cohen taught us, the proverbial “crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”.
The Acid Rain problem was finally solved because a broad spectrum of people came to believe that it was important to protect natural resources – our forests, our northern lakes and the fish they contain – resources that belong to everyone. It became a non-partisan issue. We need to achieve the same kind of broad support for protecting our earth’s climate. In recent days (and we know what we’re talking about here) I find myself thinking about a line in a poem by Emily Dickinson.
“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.”
One can imagine the writing on some of those doors, because a few are already swinging open while others are preparing to do so.
- At present, one of those doors could be inscribed ‘The New Economy Cities, Provinces and States that have already launched and have no interest in turning back.” That sounds like a coalition focused on action.
- I have already mentioned the important role of science in climate change. A related door might be inscribed “Applied Science” or “Technology”. This includes breakthroughs in storage batteries, and renewables, carbon sequestered asphalt and carbon taken out of the air and turned into cement.
- And a third door reads “The Market”, the fact that there is money to be made in transitioning to a low carbon economy. That sounds like ‘enlightened self-interest’ to me.
I’d like to leave you this evening with another lesson that we learned from the decade spent working on the Acid Rain campaign. A personal lesson. It is not enough to just work on protecting our environment; we also need to be in the environment. To keep our connection with the world around us we need to take time to hike through forests, canoe on lakes, go birdwatching or simply feel the sun on our face in a park.
It’s June. We are on the cusp of summer. This is a time to recharge ourselves in the natural world that is in full bloom around us. Then to start opening the doors that will help us tackle climate change so that future generations will find occasions on which to pause, savour the moment and say “the system worked”.