Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Canadian cities petition U.S. to curb air pollution

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | 12:07 PM AT
CBC News

Thirteen Canadian municipalities plan to file a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday that calls for reduced emissions from 150 coal-fired plants in seven U.S. Midwestern states.

Albert Koehl, a lawyer for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in Toronto, said the 150 coal-fired plants are polluters on a massive scale and are among the oldest and dirtiest in the United States.

The 150 U.S. plants produce emit twice as many tonnes of smog-producing sulphur dioxide and and nitrogen oxides as Canada's major industries combined, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund says.

The defence fund will file the petition on behalf of municipalities representing more than five million people in Central and Eastern Canada, including Toronto, Halifax, Windsor, Cornwall, Peel Region, Durham Region and Essex County in Ontario and Laval, Gatineau and Ch√Ęteauguay in Quebec.

"It shows there's a groundswell of support among communities and their leaders to take matters into their own hands when it comes to protecting their own air, either from pollutants coming from abroad or even domestically," Koehl said.

Under U.S. law, the EPA is supposed to force power plants to lower their emissions if evidence exists that the emissions are harming the health of Canadians. The petition refers to evidence from international reports that document the flow of air pollution from the United States into Canada.

May have limited success under Bush administration

However, Koehl warned that under the administration of President George W. Bush, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actually been trying to loosen air pollution laws rather than enforce them.

The petition may have a limited chance of success, he said.

He said it was nonetheless important for Canadian municipalities to join a fight by U.S. cities, states and environmental groups. There is already a slate of lawsuits by U.S. states calling for a reduction in emissions.

If the EPA fails to act, the Canadian municipalities have the right to sue the agency in U.S. courts.

Pollution from plants dwarfs Canadian totals

According to a news release from the defence fund, the 150 U.S. plants emit about 4.5 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 1.6 million tonnes of nitrogen oxides annually — double the amount produced by all of Canada's major industries combined.

These contaminants produce smog and acid rain.

"Windsor is in the eye of this toxic storm. Windsor gets about 90 per cent of its pollutants that cause smog from the U.S.," Koehl said.

The 150 plants emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases as does all of Canada, including its transportation, industry and oil sands industries, the news release said.

Originally filed in 2005 on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, the amended petition includes new information on smog, acid rain and climate change.

U.S. pollution blamed for thousands of Ontario deaths

According to the Ontario government, about half of the 5,000 premature deaths caused by smog in the province every year can be attributed to air pollution that crosses the Canada-U.S. border.

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical health officer, said the city has a serious air pollution problem, a large part of which is blowing in from across the U.S. border.

"About half of our airborne pollution comes from across the border in the United States. That pollution is coming from dirty coal-fired plants in the Ohio valley and in the Midwest," he said.

McKeown said he agrees that the petition will face an uphill battle. "In the U.S., efforts to weaken laws and regulations will make things worse for Ontario and people in Toronto," he said.

The Ontario government has joined one of the lawsuits launched by a U.S. state, but McKeown said the move is questionable, given its recent decision to withdraw its promise to close coal-fired plants in the province by 2009.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia also affected

Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly said the air pollution is also causing problems in the Maritimes.

"As I understand it, over 50 per cent of air pollutants over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are from the U.S. For us, we're trying to deal with what's coming our way, but also what we generate here as well."

The seven states in which the plants are located are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

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