Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submits comments regarding Regulatory Amendments to Facilitate Waste Recycling
The entire submission is available online.
On July 19, 2006 the MOE put a posting on the EBR registry concerning extensive amendments to three EPA regulations (334, 347, 116). The Ministry put forward the amendments to “divert more wastes from disposal” and to “better manage residual waste.”
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper opposes the amendments for the following reasons:
1. The amendments are contrary to the spirit of Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 2. The amendments attempt to distinguish “good” projects from “bad” projects, rather than recognizing that all projects have the potential to have environmental impacts.
The proposed amendments have six parts but these comments will relate more generally to the underlying policy behind the amendments.
1. The amendments are contrary to the spirit of Part V of the Environmental Protection Act
(i) The purpose of the Environmental Protection Act
The purpose of the Environmental Protection Act, Part V is not to punish “bad” activities by subjecting them to public processes. The purpose of the act is set out in s.3(1) “to provide for the protection and conservation of the natural environment.” Waste management was included in Part V of the Act because it is recognized that there are environmental impacts to the disposal of wastes that need to be canvassed before a waste disposal method is approved. These impacts are not only environmental in a narrow sense, they are impacts on communities' quality of life. Accordingly Part V subjects wastes to public processes by requiring, allowing for and facilitating public hearings. Waste disposal, transport and recycling can have both negative and positive impacts, and that is exactly why it is subjected to Part V of the EPA.
(ii) The purpose of the amendments
The premise of the proposed regulatory amendments is first and foremost that some waste disposal activities are inherently positive and therefore merit exemption from Part V of the EPA.
The amendments begin by proposing that biomass has a “neutral impact on greenhouse gas emissions”and that biodiesel is “a clean burning alternative to traditional fuels.” By this reasoning waste disposal systems that produce woodwaste, ethanol, biodiesel and biomass would be exempted from Part V of the EPA as a class and not be further subject to any Part V approvals. While the merits of these products as fuel are beyond the scope of this submission, we submit that whether or not biodiesel and biomass are clean fuels is irrelevant to whether or not the waste material handling provisions of the EPA should apply.
These EPA provisions exist to ensure that the storage and handling of the component materials such as organic matter, food processing wastes, and agricultural residue does not harm the environment. Exempting the production of woodwaste, ethanol, biodiesel and biomass from Part V of the EPA as an incentive for the production of the fuel sends an inappropriate message about the purpose of Part V of the EPA. That message is that the environmental impacts of storing waste for a “positive” purpose are somehow inherently less harmful to the communities that must deal with odour and other potentially serious contamination problems.
By extension then the EPA is seen not as a protection for the environment so much as a “red tape”punishment for storing waste for an undesirable purpose. Such an attitude fundamentally undermines the entire Act. We submit that the EPA is not there to punish socially undesirable operations and reward popular ones; it is in-place to protect the environment. The EPA is not an appropriate mechanism for providing incentives to certain operations or punishing others, it is a process designed to protect communities from waste storage, transport and disposal activities that impact their quality of life. These impacts do not change because of the ultimate purpose of the storage, transport, handling or disposal.
2. The amendments attempt to distinguish “good” projects from “bad” projects, rather than recognizing that all projects have environmental impacts.
If there are certain activities that the Ontario Ministry of the Environment wishes to promote or provide incentives to, such as alternative fuels, it is fundamentally unfair to provide that incentive at the expense of those who would suffer the environmental impacts relating to Part V of the EPA. Such an approach asks that local communities pay the entire price of this policy.
This criticism applies not only to alternative fuels, but to the pilot and demonstration sites, the production and use of recyclable materials recovered from waste, and the “beneficial” use of wastes.
In the case of recyclable wastes, the regulatory document notes that “there is some concern that the ministry stringently controls waste that is destined for recycling. Some cite this as a barrier to more recycling.” There is no logical connection between having reasonable controls on the handling of waste destined for recycling designed to protect the environment and the ability of recycling facilities to operate. Given that recycling is generally intended as a way to improve the environment, it is a strange suggestion indeed that protecting the environment gets in the way of or is a “barrier” to recycling. Once again we submit that removing environmental protections is a totally inappropriate incentive mechanism for projects where the entire policy rationale for providing an incentive is that they are environmentally beneficial.
The mere fact that a project is environmentally beneficial in one aspect (recycles material, creates a cleaner fuel) should not justify removing controls over the other aspects of that project (odour, leachate, air emissions) which may have negative environmental impacts, or “streamlining” that process to remove the requirements for hearings, EBR postings, approvals and all other mechanisms for community input and awareness.
This same criticism applies especially to the beneficial use of wastes. An activity can be “recycling” in one aspect, but still pose the potential for serious environmental harm. Importantly, the change in ultimate purpose of handling the waste makes no change to the potential for environmental harm arising from waste management. For example, if landfilling waste asphalt, waste asphalt shingles, and waste glass merits a s.27 application, there is no reasonable rationale for the suggestion that when those same materials are “recycled” by being used in construction they are suddenly not causing any environmental impacts.
The proposed amendments undermine the public process by exempting these activities from public scrutiny.
The proposed amendments seriously undermine the purpose of the EPA by identifying the appropriateness of environmental protections with whether or not the activity is engaged in for a “good” or a “bad” purpose. Since the ultimate purpose or objective of an activity has nothing to do with whether or not an activity has environmental and social impacts, this scheme is fundamentally flawed.
The entire submission is available online.