Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"It's Not Fair, We Want Clean Air": Citizens for Clean Air Rally

Today at 2 p.m., I attended an extraordinary rally at Queen's Park organized by the Citizens for Clean Air (C4CA). Thousands of people protested the proposed construction of a 900-megawatt natural gas power plant in Oakville, slated to be one of the largest in Ontario. They arrived en masse in 42 yellow school buses, with their mayors from Mississauga South, Oakville, and King Township leading the charge, to point out the flawed decision making process of TransCanada Corporation, and the Ontario Power Authority, which has permitted them to build this gigantic plant within 2 km of 5000 homes, and 16 schools. Why was I there? I care about clean air in Ontario, I teach at one of those nearby schools, and my brother's family lives near this area. The world is small and interconnected, and the Liberals, in their mad rush to grow an electoral empire, are putting this world I know at grave risk. My beloved Ontario is being threatened by those claiming to lead it. As I walked away from the rally, one of my students reached out their hand from a bus to wave good-bye.

This megawatt power plant is being fast-tracked, without a full federal Environmental Assessment process, which the Mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton, promises to pursue with all his formidable might. The C4CA might be gravely disappointed to find out, as I did in our case with Metrolinx, that TransCanada Corp., a private company, and the Ontario Power Authority, an arm's length agency, will collude with the federal Minister of the Environment to refine data during the Environmental Assessment process to avoid air quality exceedances and provide the go-ahead for construction. Most likely, the EA will say that the airshed in Oakville is already so highly polluted- what is a bit more 2.5 particulate matter added to the mix?

It is the same argument that I have heard from Metrolinx to rationalize the Georgetown South Service and Air Rail Link expansion, that CommunityAir has heard from the Toronto Port Authority, and most likely, that the C4CA will hear from the Ontario Power Authority. The pivotal question that must be answered is whether private companies, in this case, TransCanada Corp., have the best environmental interest of residents in mind as their highest priority due to their corporate mandate. In fact, is there not an intrinsic conflict of interest between a private company and residential communities when the objective of a company is to provide specific services for profit, vetted by a provincial arm's length agency? And when the mandate of the provincial and federal levels of the Canadian government, apparently, is to ensure that our infrastructure is dependent on fossil fuel, when the rest of the world is turning away from this dirty habit?

A public relations thorn in McGuinty's side is that two gas-fired power plants have blown up, one very recently. On February 7th, five people have died in Middletown, Connecticut, and twelve were injured, with a blast emanating for 48.2 km. The plant was run by Kleen Energy Systems (sic). The GO train serving Lakeshore West is within 50 metres of the proposed site for this plant, and its pipeline, and this gas powered plant will emit a vapour cloud, which will ice the tracks, and decrease visibility. If you were worried about Lakeshore West GO service before, you really should be now.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, and the Liberal Party, are directly responsible for this project, through faulty rationale enabling a false timeline. Our population is simply not growing that quickly, and Ontario has more than enough energy, a significant proportion of it renewable energy generated by Niagara Falls. In fact, as we speak, Ontario is selling off its surplus to the United States, and buying it back at a loss. NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns has revealed this information, published in a series of articles in the Star this summer. There is no other government in the world who would issue permits to build gas-fired power plants when they do not have a critical need of electricity, especially when they have surplus, renewable sources at their fingertips. This is part of the aggressive expansionist policy of Premier McGuinty, and he should prove the need for this plant to the opposition, and all Ontario residents.

Who is used to enforce these aggressive, fossil fuel guzzling decisions for unsustainable infrastructure? The Ontario Port Authority, the Toronto Port Authority, and Metrolinx are used to be the enforcers of these outdated projects. I am becoming very leery of any arm's length agency with the word "authority" as part of their title - it is guaranteed not to be one. There is simply no need to build this fossil fuel plant at $1.2 billion, there is no need to build a fossil fuel driven air rail link at $1 billion, and there is no need to expand fossil fuel short haul flights, with donations from the federal government rising to almost $600 million. In addition, all of these infrastructure choices have security risks associated with their operation as they are situated in the center of heavily populated regions. Premier McGuinty is leading us toward not only climate change, and environmental degradation, through heavily polluted air, but adding to this possible, future security breaches.

In the words of the assemblers, "It's not fair, we want clean air." This constitutional right extends to all residents of Ontario. There is no greater birthright, and no politician, or political party, who has the right to take this from us. Everyone who breathes should unite to say "We do not need to build fossil fuel based infrastructure for generations to come". The Liberals will feel the loss of these votes during the next federal election - they are angering enough ridings in the GTA. These constituents will become a critical mass as they form a coalition to fight for better air quality in the GTA. It is Premier McGuinty's job which might not be safe, although in his interview responding quickly to the rally, he guarantees that the gas-fired power plant will be.

There is an excellent documentary, 'Stop The Oakville Power Plant', at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUcVB0UgSmQ for more information.

Citizens for Clean Air at http://www.c4ca.org/
Ontario Power Authority at http://www.powerauthority.on.ca/
Surplus Electricity in Ontario at
http://www.thestar.com/business/article/649763 and http://www.thestar.com/article/621552
At least 5 dead in Connecticut gas plant blast at http://www.canada.com/news/least+dead+Connecticut+plant+blast/2534227/story.html
Toronto Port Authority and Air Quality Measurement at http://www.torontoport.com/airport_facts.asp
McGuinty promises Oakville power plant will be safe at http://toronto.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100302/plant_protest_100302/20100302/?hub=TorontoNewHome