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N.Y. gives Ontario pollution black eye
Ontario Power Generation plants cited in petition slamming failure to curb smog-causing emissions
Erik White
The Standard

Local News - That New York State had to take Ontario to task for the air pollution caused by its coal-fired power plants marks a sad day for the entire province, says St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley.

This is a very embarrassing day for Ontario, he said. There was a time when Ontario was the one to take the initial action on air pollution and provoke reaction in the U.S.A., when their record was worse than ours.

The Liberal environment critic was responding to a petition filed with the Commission for Environmental Co-operation by New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, slamming Canada for doing little to curb smog-causing chemicals spewing out of three southern Ontario coal-fired plants.

The same plants, particularly the massive generating station at Nanticoke on Lake Erie, are among the major culprits for the smog that leaves Niagara gasping for air every summer.

At a news conference in Buffalo Thursday, Spitzer claimed Ontario pollution is having a major impact on the air quality and health of New York residents and accused the government of failing to enforce its own environmental protection laws.

Buffalo and the Buffalo region had the worst ozone problem of any region in New York state. Buffalo was worse than Manhattan, worse than the Bronx, Spitzer said, citing Department of Environmental Conservation findings.

New York wants to use the North American Free Trade Agreement to nudge Ontario into reducing noxious emissions from its three largest coal-fired electricity generators, Spitzer said.

New York state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and 50 health and environmental groups launched the petition asking the international commission to launch a fact-finding mission into Ontario Power Generationís Nanticoke, Lambton and Lakeview generating stations.

While the commission is only able to publish recommendations on the issue, Sierra Club Eastern Canada director Dan McDermott said the challenge adds a major voice to those already calling for change.

St. Catharines environmental consultant and author Hans Tammemagi, who is working on a book about air pollution, said all three plants are using antiquated filtering methods.

But even with the best technology, coal-fired plants are still the worst type of polluter, he said.

Ontario Environment Ministry spokesman John Steele refused to respond directly to the petition, but pointed out the province is on target to reduce emissions by 53 per cent by 2007, partly by installing new control systems at the coal-fired stations, which are planned to be phased out entirely by 2015.

Environment Minister Chris Stockwell said New York generates 17 per cent of its electricity from coal, while Ontario derives 24 per cent of its power from coal, a percentage that is falling.

Iím not arguing with them, Stockwell said in an interview. But the reality is 200 coal-fired plants in the northeastern United States are burning in other states. Iím not sure weíre the real problem for New York. We are lowering our emissions.

He said New York should look at neighbouring states, some of which burn the dirtiest coal in the world.

Both opposition parties have plans to stop using coal by 2007, and Bradley a former Liberal environment minister has long advocated for cleaner-burning natural gas plants or alternative sources such as solar and wind power.

But with a growing population, Tammemagi said Ontario is likely to be stuck with coal for the foreseeable future to meet the demand for electricity.

He also questioned switching to natural gas, as diminishing reserves will make it a very expensive fuel source.

With coal abundant, Tammemagi suggested governments would be best to fund long-term research into finding a cleaner way to burn coal.

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