February 27, 2006

Ontario files formal comments on EPA proposal to allow more air pollution from coal-fired plants

The Ontario government has filed a formal submission with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailing the province's concerns about the agency's plans to allow higher emissions from coal-burning power plants.

Proposed changes to the EPA's New Source Review program would allow coal-burning power plants to operate for longer hours and pollute more per year. Ontario believes this rule change would increase the amount of air pollution coming from the U.S. and lead to increased smog problems in Ontario because it will ease emission controls for a significant number of coal-fired power plants in midwestern states.

The submission presented by Environment Minister Laurel Broten and Ontario's Attorney General Michael Bryant points out that the EPA's New Source Review program, a key component of the U.S. Clean Air Act, has helped eliminate more than 650,000 tons of air pollution from the U.S. Left unaltered, it could lead to more than 2.3 million tons of additional emission reductions in the near term.

The proposed changes, however, would essentially undercut what has been a highly effective enforcement program and will have an adverse impact on public health and the Ontario economy, as well as on the health of U.S. residents living downwind of major coal-fired power plants, the submission continues.

"Air pollution from U.S. coal-fired generators is hurting Ontario's health, and the people of this province are counting on our neighbours to do better," Broten said, adding, "I am calling on my colleagues on both sides of the border to join Ontario in cleaning up the air we share."

The submission summarizes the negative environmental, health and economic impacts of transboundary air pollution presented last year in two major reports, one prepared by Ministry of Environment scientists, engineers and consultants, the other by the Ontario Medical Association. It also lists steps taken by both the Ontario and federal governments to reduce air pollution from sources within the province, and points out measures by a number of U.S. states to control power plant emissions.

Proceeding with the proposed changes to the New Source Review program will have serious consequences for Ontario, says the paper. The province is directly downwind of hundreds of large air pollution sources in the midwestern states, including coal-fired power plants, some of which have been operating for 50 years or more and still have no modern pollution control equipment. Consequently, Ontario cannot control its air quality or address the human costs of this pollution on its own.

Computer model projections indicate that without significantly greater reductions in transboundary air pollution from the U.S., air quality in the province will not be able to meet the Canada-Wide Standard for ozone in 2010. Effective environmental leadership in the U.S. is needed to deal with the aging facilities that are responsible for much of this pollution, but the EPA is not demonstrating such leadership. Its proposed changes to the NSR program, by eliminating enforcement against the highest-polluting electricity generators, represent a massive lost opportunity for potential emission reductions.

Such reductions, especially from the electric utility sector, are needed to mitigate the documented adverse environmental and health effects being experienced in Ontario. The submission concludes by urging the EPA to abandon its proposed approach, reverse course and take strong, immediate action to reduce transboundary pollution.

Ontario currently maintains working relationships with several states, among them New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, on transboundary air issues. This coming June, the Shared Air Summit 2006 will be held in Toronto, bringing together political leaders, leading scientists, health care professionals, environmentalists and industry representatives from across North America to discuss air quality issues and the impact they have on public health, the environment and economies of affected jurisdictions.

The filing of comments by the provincial government is being strongly supported by environmental and health groups as well as governments within and beyond Ontario.

John Stanton, vice-president of the National Environmental Trust, in Washington DC, noted that, "During the 1980s, Ontario's role in the acid rain debate was vital. Ontario's intervention today is no less significant."

Comments reinforcing Ontario's position have also been expressed by organizations such as the Ontario Medical Association, Toronto Mayor David Miller, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Clean Air Hamilton, the Windsor Essex County Environment Committee, Pollution Probe, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Lung Association, the Pembina Institute (Toronto office), Environmental Defence Canada and Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

The full text and an executive summary of the Ontario government's comments to the EPA, as well as the 2005 Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario report may be viewed on the Ministry of Environment Web site, www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/air/transboundary/index.htm.

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