By Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
Environmental issues were front-page news this summer. Energy woes, waste diversion (aka, garbage), and sewage overflows are affecting each of us. And even though the legislature has just wrapped up for the summer, we may see the Government of Ontario make some of its most important environmental decisions in the coming months.
Perhaps most alarming is the concerted effort to streamline major Ontario environmental assessments. These kinds of changes are hailed by the Toronto Star, which accuses opponents of landfills and incinerators of trying to,“block them using the environmental assessment process for political, rather than scientific, reasons.”
While business-like rhetoric that promotes efficiencies, science, and expertise might sound good in the press, it rings hollow in communities who are faced with massive environmental projects such as energy plants, mine sites, and landfills.
In early June, the Minister of Environment reassured Ontarians that all new nuclear plants will undergo a full federal environmental assessment. The problem is, according to most environmental lawyers, a nuclear plant also requires a provincial environmental assessment, a different and equally important legal process. This is an especially important check, given the Government of Canada’s stake in the nuclear industry.
Waste issues like landfills, incineration, and alternative fuels are also top-of-mind in many Ontario communities. Unfortunately, decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis, without connecting to a broader provincial strategy. For example, York and Durham are set to launch a new incineration program that could provide the fuel pellets for a cement kiln in Bath, Ontario. In the case of an alternative fuels project, the studies are all paid for and conducted by the company itself, without independent verification by the province. Both the York/Durham and the Alternative Fuels Project public study periods will continue over the course of the summer.
Accountability for infrastructure is also being downloaded to municipalities, the same institutions that are responsible for paying for upgrades and maintenance. As a result, many communities are seeing little investment in aging pipes and municipalities are ignoring the voluntary environmental standards meant to eliminate leaky combined sewer systems.
“Taking steps to address source water protection without fixing the pipes through which the water flows, is futile. Our new clean water is still traveling through old and corroding pipes to our homes. Our wastewater is still flowing through aging pipes that allow sewage to pollute our lakes and rivers,” wrote one spokesperson from the sewer and water main construction industry
Ironically, as the government dances around these important decisions, the public is left only with the weakest environmental process. We get notification through the Environmental Registry, but announcements are often cryptic and information easily slips through the cracks. We get environmental assessments, but only those led by the proponents of a project. We get “Town Halls” but no hearings where experts testify under oath and can be questioned by citizens. When we try to “streamline” democracy, we’re left with shoddy processes that truly are confusing and, as a result, slow. And that is what’s costly. People can get involved in the federal environmental assessment process (www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca to see what’s active) or the provincial permitting process (www.ene.gov.on.ca, click “Environmental Registry”).
For more information: Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper 245 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto, ONT M5J 2K9 PH: (416) 861-1237 • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.waterkeeper.ca