Canadian stakeholders have seen that baggage and want none of it to be opened here
At the recent meeting of the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association conference, a panel discussion on a contentious issue was featured. The issue involved a concept called FitFir, short for First in Time – First in Right. Panelists included an irrigation consultant, an urban water manager, an industry lawyer and a lawyer from a green lobby group called Ecojustice.
Readers may not have heard of Ecojustice, but they are a familiar antagonist in environmental issues, they were formerly known as the Sierra Club Legal Defence Fund. In the U. S. they changed their name to Earthjustice. The Canadian group was a subsidiary of the American group, it has since struck off on its own, but maintains close ties with its U. S. parent. Both groups changed their names to more reflect their now-national scope. The term “Sierra Club” tended to associate it more with its California roots.
Such name changes are just part of corporate restructuring and image marketing that all green lobby groups go through as they try to grow their business in the competition for donations with other green groups. Fundraising is a full-time business for green groups as many have multi-million dollar budgets to meet and expensive payrolls to cover every month. Such activity is the heart and soul of such lobby groups as they fight to stay in business.
Part of that business is image branding and using words like Eco, Earth, Green etc. Are all designed to make potential donors feel good about the organization they are thinking of supporting. Such imaging positions are also used to attack issues. Few citizens are aware that the word “tarsands” was invented by lobby groups testing the word on focus groups. That red-button word gave the test participants a much more negative view than the word “oilsands.” That’s why green groups, certain media and even certain political parties use the word tarsands, because they are trying to place a negative perception in people’s minds.
Back to the conference panel. FitFir and its consequences is a somewhat American concept that has scared irrigation users and their allies in this country. The original
idea in this situation is that those that have used the utility the longest and have the oldest licences have the first right to use it even when circumstances change. That may include regulatory, industrial, environmental, climate-related changes, and even in emergency situations. Along with that is the right to sell or rent licenses to someone else subject to conditions.
This issue comes to a head in southern Alberta whenever a water shortage occurs. However, with common sense and co-operation, a voluntary arrangement amongst users both for agriculture and other uses is usually agreed upon that sets priorities. That usually means human use first. Ecojustice sees that as admirable as that approach should be cast in stone through government regulations.
On the face of it that seems reasonable as it would formalize a voluntary process that sort-of already exists. But Ecojustice’s motives bring with it baggage from their parent’s legal antics in the U. S. Canadian stakeholders have seen that baggage and want none of it to be opened here as the legal consequences would be devastating to irrigators in southern Alberta.
What irrigators here fear is that once regulations are in place, green zealots like Ecojustice would then use the courts and federal laws to insert additional environmental caveats into regulations. That’s what has happened in the U. S. where federal environmental and species-at-risk laws have been used to override state and local laws involving water access and use. That has seen irrigation shut down just to preserve the habitat of a few snails or fish in river sources. This is no idle fear as irrigation users have already seen much federal busybody intrusion into irrigation issues since the arrival of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Alberta.
Green lobby apologists claim that the Canadian and American justice systems are different. But are they? Ecojustice exists for only one reason – to launch lawsuits on any environmental issue, real or imagined. They absolutely need to do that in order to raise more funds to stay in business. If that means creating a dubious legal background for future lawsuits well than that’s just good business – even it means fooling a gullible public with feigned concern about water access for human use. Irrigators and their allies should be very concerned with FitFir and suspicious of interlopers like Ecojustice.