July 4, 2005

Proposed CWS would cut mercury releases from coal-fired power plants by 58%

A proposed Canada-wide standard (CWS) for mercury emissions from coal-fired electric power generation facilities would cut releases from this sector by as much as 58% from 2003-04 levels by 2010. The draft CWS was accepted in principle last week by federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers at the spring meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in Halifax.

The ministers expect to give final endorsement of the CWS at their fall 2005 meeting, which will also take place in Halifax. In the meantime, governments will conduct public consultations on the draft standard as appropriate.

The draft CWS includes emission caps or limits for both existing and new coal-fired electric power generation (EPG) facilities.

The 2010 provincial caps on mercury emissions for existing facilities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia represent a 65% natural capture of mercury from coal burned (70% taking into account recognition for early action). A second phase of the CWS may explore the capture of 80% or more of mercury from coal burned for 2018 and beyond. Total emissions would be reduced from an estimated 2,695 kg/year (based on utility monitoring program results from 2002 to 2004) to 1,130 kg/yr by 2010.

For new facilities, capture rates or emission limits would take effect immediately, based on best available control technology economically achievable. Capture rates specified by the CWS range from 75 to 85%, with emission limits ranging from three to 15 kg per terawatt-hour, depending on the type of coal burned.

Also at the meeting, the ministers received a progress report on implementation of existing CWS for mercury emissions (from hazardous waste, sewage sludge, municipal waste, medical waste incineration and base metal smelting), mercury-containing lamps, and mercury for dental amalgam waste. The report documents significant reductions in mercury releases to the environment from many of these sectors. The full report, as well as the draft CWS, may be viewed on the CCME Web site, www.ccme.ca, under "What's New."

Another highlight of the meeting was the release of a draft statement on environmental sustainability. The statement sets out a series of principles and a commitment by governments to work together, through a strengthened CCME, toward a number of goals which will support environmental sustainability. Among these are:

a systems approach to environmental management, in which jurisdictions collaborate to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness;

streamlined, single-window/single process regulatory approaches, with clearly-defined roles and responsibilities and delivery by the best-positioned jurisdiction;

increased investment in the development and broader deployment of environmental technologies;

bilateral and/or multilateral agreements to promote environmental co-operation among and within governments;

improved domestic and international links related to the handling of environmental issues and the development of environmental standards; and

better information-sharing, to ensure sound decisions, accurate predictions and greater accountability.

"We are committed to work towards a shared vision of national outcomes in Canada through collaboration and equal partnerships among governments," said Nova Scotia Environment Minister Kerry Morash, who chaired last week's CCME meeting and will lead the fall meeting as well.

The statement, which is expected to receive final approval at the fall meeting, will form a new framework for collaborative actions by governments on environmental sustainability. It is supported by initiatives in a number of specific areas, three of which have been singled out by the ministers as priority areas where increased collaboration will produce concrete results. These include: streamlined regulatory compliance promotion and enforcement; science, technology and research; and monitoring, modelling and information management.

Interjurisdictional collaboration in the area of regulatory compliance promotion and enforcement would lead to regulatory regimes better reflecting and responding to the complexity of current business and environmental realities, while continuing to ensure a high standard of protection. While joint outcomes should be consistent across all governments, the statement says roles and responsibilities could be considered on an issue-by-issue, region-by-region basis.

A range of mechanisms would be available, with each government making its own decision on how to interact with others to achieve shared outcomes. Administrative and equivalency agreements to regulate wastewater effluent from the pulp and paper industry illustrate the benefits to be gained from regulatory streamlining.

Action relating to science, technology and research would focus on establishing a common set of science objectives in order to align science and the policy development process more closely. Jurisdictions would work together to determine scientific and research priorities of common interest, to promote better collaboration with other science-based networks, and to better align research and technical development with governments' priorities. The potential end result, says the statement, would include a co-ordinated, nation-wide agenda for research and information-sharing, as well as better communication among scientists, policy makers, stakeholders and the public.

With regard to monitoring, modelling and information management, the statement reaffirms the need for key environmental indicators, appropriate modeling tools and effective monitoring of environmental parameters. Environmental data gathered should be based on common standards and the information shared for a multitude of potential purposes, it adds.

Work in this area could lead to the establishment of national environmental quality and sustainability indicators; predictive and adaptive models for use in setting long-term priorities and making informed decisions; and common sets of standards for environmental data and its management, localized as required.

The statement cites the National Air Pollution Surveillance (NAPS) network as an example of what can be accomplished when jurisdictions work together. This joint program for monitoring and evaluating ambient air quality in Canadian urban centres has produced uniform data bases through the use of standardized instrumentation, and has led to the adoption of nationally consistent standards and methodology.

Finally, in response to a presentation on climate change adaptation, the ministers agreed to take on a championship role in adapting to the effects of climate change, which are already being felt throughout Canada. They also committed to work together as Canada prepares for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference 2005, which will be held from November 28 to December 9, 2005 in Montreal.

More information is available from Carl Hrenchuk, CCME executive director, 204/948-2172.

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