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More scrutiny needed for large natural gas plants

Wednesday, September 22nd 2010 12:04:22pm

For Immediate Release

More scrutiny needed for large natural gas plants

Toronto, September 22, 2010 - The Ontario government must stop blocking tougher environmental scrutiny of large natural gas power plants, says Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller in his 2009/2010 annual report released today.  

"As we phase-out the use of coal, natural gas - including some very large plants - will play an important role in meeting our energy requirements," says Miller. "But we must not lose sight of the fact that natural gas still has considerable environmental impacts. It is time to re-examine the rules governing the environmental assessment process for large natural gas power plants."

All large natural gas power plants, such as those planned for King Township and Oakville, are subject to an Environmental Screening procedure, rather than the more thorough scrutiny of a full Environmental Assessment. Other fossil-fuel-based projects, such as coal-fired power plants, are treated differently and require a full environmental assessment.

Last year, two applicants asked the Ministry of the Environment to revisit the rules governing environmental assessments for large natural gas power plants, arguing that a full environmental assessment should be required.  The request to raise environmental scrutiny of natural gas plants was turned down, with the ministry noting that there is always the possibility for the public to request a full environmental assessment. However, the ministry routinely turns down such requests.  

As an example, the applicants cited the York Energy Centre in King Township. The planned 393 MW natural gas power plant is close to the Holland Marsh, a major farming region with rich and unique soils that provides much of the leafy produce grown in southern Ontario. There are significant concerns about the potential impact the plant may have given its proximity to the marsh.

"This case serves as a good illustration as to why the rules should be reviewed, as the applicants have requested," says Miller. "The ministry insists the opportunity exists for the public to request a full Environmental Assessment. But a request that is never granted rings as a hollow promise."

Recently, the government exempted the proposed York Energy Centre from the local land use planning requirements of the Planning Act. "This removes any planning control that King Township would have over this project," says Miller. "Three years ago, I raised a concern about the ability of the government to exempt such projects. We are now seeing how this power can be exercised to do an end-run around local planning concerns."

Click here to read the chapter "The Potential Impacts of Electricity Projects on the Environment" on the website of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Click here to download the full report in .pdf.

Click links below to access media releases on other topics mentioned in the Environmental Commissioner's 2009/2010 Annual Report - Refining Conservation:

Environmental Commissioner Releases 2009/2010 Annual Report

Aging Landfills: Ontario's Forgotten Polluters
Sewage Treatment - Not Good Enough
Province's air quality standards are not airtight
Wanted: One billion more trees for southern Ontario
Lack of Mining Oversight Jeopardizes the Far North
Government's plan will not save caribou
Loophole big enough to truck 160,000 tonnes of sand through
Province allows provincially significant wetlands to be drained

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The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is appointed by the Legislative Assembly to be the province's independent environmental watchdog, and report publicly on the government's environmental decision-making.  

Aussi disponible en francais.

For more information, contact:  
Hayley Easto
Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
416-325-3371 / 416-819-1673

Click for high-resolution photo.