October 23, 2006

Toronto assigned C- grade on ninth TEA Smog Report Card

For the second consecutive year, the Toronto Environmental Alliance has given the city of Toronto a "C-" grade on its ninth annual Smog Report Card. The 2006 grade remains unchanged from 2005, both years down from B+ in 2004, the highest grade accorded by the TEA since it began tracking the city's progress in implementing its 1998 smog plan and subsequent promises on air quality issues.

The TEA report card has dubbed 2006 "the year of muddling through;" the Alliance's executive director, Dr Robert Fugere, said most successes were "largely due to regular rains and citizens' conservation efforts. The city government has merely kept plugging along, with excellence in a few areas but less than acceptable in many."

The summer of 2006 was one of the best on record, with only 11 smog advisory days. This was the lowest number in the past six years, and less than a quarter of last year's record 48 days. Regular rains that washed the air clean, along with fewer extremely hot days, are cited by the report as the main factors contributing to this achievement. The TEA cautions, however, that this one-year respite from smog does not diminish the urgency of the need for action to reduce the sources of the particulate matter and gases (particularly ozone and nitrous oxide) that give rise to smog.

The TEA also commends Toronto residents and Toronto Hydro for their energy conservation efforts during the late July heat wave, noting that these efforts kept the city from experiencing power "brown-outs:" on the hottest day, notes the report, Toronto reduced its one-day peak energy use by five megawatts (MW), while energy consumption in the rest of the province increased by 845 MW. Toronto Hydro's Power Saver and Peak Saver AC programs have reduced the average electricity demand by 145 MW over the past year and a half, putting the utility on track to reach its reduction target of 250 MW by 2007.

Other notable achievements include Toronto city council's approval in July of a Green Development strategy, mandating minimum performance standards for site and building design, including the use of heat-reflecting roofing tiles to reduce the urban heat island effect. This policy complements Toronto's Better Building Partnership, which has already retrofitted 39 million square feet in the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) building sectors, with a commensurate reduction of 172,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

The annual TEA review assesses Toronto's performance on smog in six key areas and bases its grades on whether city council has fulfilled its commitments regarding clean air, not whether it has done what the Alliance would like to see done. This year's report card also gives the city high marks for greening its fleet of vehicles and pressing other levels of government for air quality action.

However, the city has fallen behind in implementing a wide range of programs, including energy efficiency improvements, getting its own energy from green sources like wind and solar power, better public transit, and making Toronto more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. The city has also been slow to fulfill a longstanding commitment to develop a comprehensive air quality strategy to fight smog and deal with climate change. The council, says the report, has been long on resolutions but short on actual action.

Overall, the TEA calls for leadership and vision by Toronto to take action on key smog-related challenges. Specific recommendations include: a deeper investigation into the causes of smog production and greater engagement of businesses and residents into anti-smog initiatives; implementation of the city's energy plan; continued construction of a surface rapid transit grid throughout the city, with more granting of transit rights-of-way; renewal of the city's green fleet transition program; and establishment of a budget to implement the pedestrian charter, drafted in 2003. The report also urges the city to move beyond better measurement of air quality to require more comprehensive action to improve Toronto's air quality.

More information is available from Dr Robert Fugere at the TEA, 416/596-0660. The 2006 Report Card may also be viewed on the TEA Web site, www.torontoenvironment.org.

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