Would it surprise you to learn that the "effective" new air quality regulations Ontario introduced have been rolled back - weakened - not once, but twice in the five years that they've been in force? It's true.
The latest round of rollbacks comes at the behest of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, an industry and trade lobby group. It is a case study in why lobbying works for industry, but fails the rest of us.
Back in 2005, Ontario introduced a new set of air pollution limits for polluting facilities. To protect your health and the environment, the new regulation limited emissions of nasty substances such as phosphoric acid, lead, mercury, and lithium.
Some industries warned government that they would not meet the environmental standards, so the new rules included a loophole. If a facility was unable to comply with the rules, its owner could ask the Ministry of the Environment for a site-specific exemption. To get the exemption, the company had to justify its request with an Emissions Summary and Dispersion Modeling (ESDM) report; a Technology Benchmarking Report; an Economic Feasibility Analysis (optional); a summary of pre-consultation with local stakeholders; and an action plan to implement and monitor progress.
One loophole wasn't enough. In 2009, the Ministry introduced a second option for companies that did not comply with the rules. If a company did not follow the general regulation, it could choose to follow new technical standards for specific sectors, such as metal mining or forestry. Waterkeeper opposed these changes, arguing (unsuccessfully) that they created different levels of protection for different communities and took away the public consultation that was a key part of the original rule.
In light of Ontario's new Open for Business strategy, two loopholes aren't enough either. In the last year, top officials within the Ontario government have worked closely with lobbyists Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) to better understand CME's priorities. The CME is a self-proclaimed leading business network that aggressively and effectively influences government thinking and action.
The CME's top priorities, as it turns out, are making provincial air quality regulations and approvals more convenient for CME members. CME is seeking regulatory certainty and "a balanced interpretation of the science."
What does this mean? More loopholes. Currently, if a company wants an exemption from the rules (aka "site-specific standards"), then the exemption is only good for five years. If the Ontario government approves the newest changes, then five years can become ten years, even if there are no "extenuating circumstances." Currently, if the company wants an extension, there must be notice to the community and a public meeting. If the Ontario government approves the newest changes, then public meetings are no longer required. Even the language in the new rules - changing "altered standards" to "site specific standards" - is designed to help the community forget that an industrial facility is not meeting Ontario's general air quality standards.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is objecting to the newest air quality standards rollback. We are worried that:
the changes will decrease transparency.
the changes will decrease both ministerial and public oversight.
the changes will normalize pollution and interfere with Ontario's pollution reduction goals
You can read our full comment here.
If you want to submit your own comment, details are available on the Environmental Registry. The deadline for public comment is May 13, 2011.
Support our efforts to defend Ontario's environmental laws: Text the word DRINK to 45678 to make a $10 donation.