Response to Government Christmas Eve, 2006 announcement
Public can challenge decision on tire-burning
Letters to the Editor - Thursday, December 28, 2006 Updated @ 5:08:13 PM
On Dec. 21, the Ministry of the Environment granted Lafarge Canada permission to burn up to 100 tonnes of tires and other waste - euphemistically referred to as "alternative fuels" - per day in the company's aged cement kiln in Bath.
Although the story "Lafarge plan a 'test' " (Dec. 23) provided pertinent details about the ministry's decision, which was made without the benefit of either an environmental assessment or a public hearing, it left out crucial information regarding steps the public can take to appeal the ministry's misguided decision.
The City of Kingston, Loyalist Township, a number of environmental groups and, as of late, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health, along with more than 2,000 members of the public, have made numerous submissions, written letters and signed petitions requesting that, at minimum, Lafarge's application to burn tires and other waste be subjected to a hearing pursuant to Part V of the Environmental Protection Act.
Now that this request, and the request for a much-needed environmental assessment, have been denied, Ontarians, under the Environmental Bill of Rights, may seek leave to appeal the ministry's decision within 15 days of its posting.
Instructions about how to go about this process are available on the Environmental Registry, where the decision and other relevant information are available (http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envregistry/022754ei.htm).
Unfortunately, time is not on the public's side, as notices have to be filed by the Jan. 6 deadline. Nonetheless, those of us who are determined to ensure the protection of human and ecosystem health are prepared to exercise our rights so that a public hearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal may yet take place.
Pressure the government
When the Lafarges, prosperous local folk that they are, took their stockings down from the mantle on that recent happy morning, they were delighted to discover that Santa Claus had delivered a generous gift. The Ontario environment ministry had decided to let them burn tires in their fireplace. Furthermore, the Lafarges were positively tickled to learn that the festivities would be monitored by none other than Mickey Mouse himself. Their hearts were filled with gratitude, and they were heard to remark, "Canada is a wonderful country!"
Nonetheless, the recent decision by the ministry allowing Lafarge to burn alternative fuels and hazardous waste at its Bath cement plant without a prior environmental assessment is disappointing, although not remotely surprising. In the regulation of industrial air pollution, the ministry has been reduced to the status of a minor department that exists to promote the interests of industry rather than to protect the public health.
The truth is that as long as the wind is blowing in the right direction, these big companies are allowed to pump any amount of poison they like into Ontario's air. Furthermore, the government appears to have acted on this matter without meeting the requirements of the Ontario Health Protection Act. This casts considerable doubt on the validity of the decision.
Industrial smoke caused about 5,000 deaths in Ontario last year, according to government figures. Ontario public health officials have had a lot to say about cigarette smoke, but not much to say about industrial smoke. There is a wealth of untapped talent amongst these officials. We need to hear a lot more from them on this matter. It is, after, all the public health people, and not the environment ministry, who are experts in human health. Ontario's industrial air emissions are being regulated by the wrong government department.
We should not rely on the government to solve this problem. When concerned citizens in Napanee successfully organized against the expansion of the Richmond landfill, they demonstrated that public opinion can be very effective in influencing government decisions. That is the only sort of approach that will work here. There are at least three citizens' groups in the area that have been formed to address the Lafarge issue. They include Clean Air Bath, Clean Air Kingston and the Loyalist Environmental Coalition. These groups are doing good work but they will need broad public support in order to make progress.
If you value the air you breathe, join them today.
A. C. Goddard-Hill, MD