Environment Minister McKenna refuses to assess Cement Plant with One Megaton GHG emissions
Federal Environment and Climate Change (ECCC) Minister Catherine McKenna has rejected a petition by Nature Canada, Ontario Nature, Nature Quebec and the VanKleek Hill and District Nature Society for a panel review assessment of a proposed cement plant in eastern Ontario.
The cement plant, proposed by Italian multinational Colacem, would be built on the shores of the Ottawa River 70 km upwind from Montreal and produce one megaton of greenhouse gas emissions every year as well as acid gas air pollutants in excess of 2020 Canadian standards. The Colacem plant would annually produce 1 million tonnes of Portland cement, ostensibly for export out of Canada through the Port of Montreal.
A Deeply Disappointing Decision
Minister McKenna’s decision is deeply disappointing for Canadians concerned about global climate change and acid rain. The April 1, 2019 letter rejecting the petition appears to rely exclusively on Colacem’s public documents claiming to be making use “to the extent practicable” of “preheaters and precalciners” to reduce GHG emissions. The letter provides no assurance that ECCC tested Colacem’s claims with respect to GHG or acid gas pollutants, let alone propose additional measures to reduce those emissions.
The letter states that provincial laws would provide oversight to ensure that air and water contaminants “would be adequately managed”. Yet an analysis by independent experts indicates that predicted nitrogen oxide emissions from the Colacem plant (285.7 micro-grams per cubic metre using 1-hour averaging) far exceed the proposed Canadian standard for 2020 (123 micro-grams per cubic metre) as well as current United States and European standards (205 and 200 micro-grams per cubic metre, respectively). Nature Canada also thinks it unwise to rely on the Ontario government to manage emissions from the cement plant given that the 2019 Ontario budget is slashing funding to the Ministry of Environment and eliminating the Environment Commissioner position.
Minister McKenna’s letter states that “With respect to public and Indigenous participation, I am satisfied that provincial processes, including the municipal planning amendment process, provide opportunities for participation”. This answer is unsatisfactory.
Why this isn’t enough for Canadians
First, let’s remember that the only public process in play is the appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board) of the land rezoning for the cement plant. This Tribunal hears cases on matters such as official plans and zoning by-laws, and has no mandate or expertise in assessing the environmental effects of development projects. So the Tribunal doesn’t provide opportunities for participation on the environmental issues that count.
Second, no efforts have been made to engage Quebeckers even though the cement plant would be constructed within a few kilometres of the province of Quebec, and Montreal will bear the brunt of the smog from the cement plant given the prevailing westerly winds.
Minister McKenna’s decision not to assess this high-carbon cement plant underlines the importance of getting the federal Impact Assessment Act in Bill C-69 enacted by Parliament by June, and getting regulations put in place that require federal assessments of high-carbon projects such as cement plants, pipelines and oil sands developments under the new statute.