Last week, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper filed our official objection to a new regulation that releases Ontario's energy plan from the provincial environmental assessment process. In June of 2006, the government chose to create a special exemption for its energy blueprint â€“ the Integrated Power System Plan â€“ despite several months of heated public consultation, as well as numerous calls for increased scrutiny and wise decision-making.
The Regulation is broad, applying to Ontario's entire energy policy. It is historic, being one of the largest financial undertakings in the province's history. And it is grave, since it compels enormous and simultaneous undertakings â€“ each with the potential for massive environmental impacts.
In our efforts to convey our concerns about the implications of this Regulation, Waterkeeper gave four reasons for our objection. First, the Regulation is contrary to the very purpose of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act: â€œthe betterment of the people of the whole or any part of Ontario by providing for the protection, conservation and wise management in Ontario of the environment.â€? It utterly fails to ensure the protection, conservation, or wise management of Ontario's environment.
The Regulation also threatens the very legitimacy of environmental assessments: they are supposed to create a process by which significant undertakings can be designed, refined, and implemented. To exempt a major initiative such as the IPSP from the Act solely on the grounds that the plan is â€œgovernment policyâ€? means that: (a) projects that reflect government policy do not require proper scrutiny or due process, and (b) the only projects that should be subject to the Act in the future are projects that are contrary to government policy. This shows a shocking disregard for the rule of law in Ontario and introduces a potentially devastating bias into the environmental assessment process.
The Government of Ontario and the Ontario Power Authority have been engaging in public consultation regarding the IPSP for quite some time. Consultation programs have included invitation-only meetings, public town halls, and Environmental Registry comment opportunities, among other things. Written submissions, transcripts of meetings, press releases, and editorials from the public have consistently reiterated strong public support for an environmental assessment of the IPSP. Yet these consultations were ignored. A response to the issues and concerns raised by the public was not offered. Affected stakeholders were not notified. Reasons for the decision were not published.
Finally, by exempting the IPSP from the requirements of the Act, the Regulation creates alarming uncertainty regarding the regulatory approvals process for new and/or expanded nuclear facilities in Ontario. While the public expects the province to complete environmental assessments, the Government of Ontario has stated several times that it will opt-out of the provincial process in favour of the federal. Abandoning the provincial process will significantly reduce the level of environmental protection for at least three reasons:
The federal environmental assessment is restricted to the analysis and mitigation of the impacts of nuclear-related materials only, and does not protect humans or the environment from other industrial emissions
The federal process will not examine the very need for nuclear facilities
The federal process is notoriously inaccessible to the public and does not provide the level of involvement citizens expect in decisions of this magnitude
While the consequences of the Regulation are enormous, dialogue with the public has been limited: The Government of Ontario made Regulation 276/06 on June 12, 2006, published it quietly on June 13 and it released it for after-the-fact public comment on June 20, 2006. This muted process glosses over what is, in fact, the most sweeping exemption ever introduced under Ontario's Environmental Assessment Act.
For more information, please read Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's official comment.