TORONTO, September 26, 2002 – Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), released his third annual report to the Ontario Legislature today, citing the loss of biodiversity as a “flashpoint” concern underpinning many of the environmental problems facing the province. In his press conference this morning at the Queen’s Park Media Studio, Miller listed the species he is most concerned about: the woodland caribou of northern boreal forests, the eastern wolves of Algonquin, and the lake trout of Ontario’s inland lakes, a species that “symbolizes the clear cold waters of our northern wilderness.”
“What’s most frustrating is that Ontario has made international, national and provincial commitments to conserve biodiversity, and those commitments are being completely ignored,” said Miller, who monitors compliance by provincial ministries with the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). He called on the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to develop a provincial biodiversity strategy before Ontario faces a major crisis in this area.
This year’s ECO report, entitled “Developing Sustainability,” covers the full spectrum of Ontario’s environmental problems. The provincial government has launched several “grand experiments” that have the potential to improve environmental protection, but their failure carries significant risks, Miller cautioned, saying that he and his staff will monitor these experiments closely. MNR’s plan to have the forest industry cut down large swaths of forest to emulate forest fires carries the risk of worsening the impacts logging already has on biodiversity. Similarly, the Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) emissions reduction trading scheme to reduce air pollution from power plants will work only when emissions from other industrial sectors are measured and capped.
This year’s ECO Recognition Award went to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAH) for developing the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, which Miller called an innovative approach to land use planning. “But the devil is in the details,” Miller warned, and unless the Plan for the Moraine is carefully implemented, “its spirit and intent will not be realized.”
MAH should use the Plan as a model for planning in the rest of the province, he added, where growing urban sprawl is threatening the natural environment and exacerbating air pollution.
The province has “stumbled badly” regarding rural water quality, the Commissioner stated. Because of severe cutbacks in MOE’s river monitoring system, the ministry doesn’t have the data on the impacts of pollution sources in rural streams and rivers, where fecal coliforms and nitrate concentrations are being found. At the same time, the Fisheries Act, Canada’s most powerful tool for prosecuting water polluters, is not being effectively used in Ontario because MOE is unwilling to accept lead responsibility for enforcing the law.
Several articles in this year’s ECO report show that the Environmental Bill of Rights is making a difference, Commissioner Miller said. Crucial changes are being proposed, for instance, to the certificates of approval for Hamilton’s SWARU incinerator, a major source of dioxin and furan emissions, after local residents used the EBR to ask the Ministry of the Environment to review the incinerator’s operations. But Miller said he was also concerned that research by his staff shows that the public’s right to information about environmental decisions, supposedly guaranteed by the EBR, is sometimes denied because of gaps in legislation and lack of cooperation from ministry offices.
The loss of biodiversity is one of the most critical environmental issues facing Ontario. The province has not made biodiversity a priority, even though the number of species at risk in Ontario is increasing each year.
- Conserving Biodiversity in Ontario (153) Unlike other Canadian provinces, Ontario has not lived up to its commitments to provincial, federal and international agreements to protect our natural environment and its species.
- Wolves of Algonquin Provincial Park (102) The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has imposed a 30-month moratorium on hunting and trapping eastern wolves in the townships surrounding the park because of a decline in their population. But 30 months is not enough time to determine whether the wolf population is viable.
- Ontario’s Lake Trout – In Peril? (157) MNR lacks a comprehensive strategy to protect the lake trout of Ontario’s inland lakes, which are threatened by overfishing, ecological change, habitat degradation and the loss of genetic diversity.
- MNRs New Guide for Forest Harvesting (50) The new MNR Guide directs the forest industry to plan large clearcuts to emulate forest fires, with the theory that larger patches of both disturbed and undisturbed forest will help to protect biodiversity. But this is a massive experiment on public lands, and monitoring and research are needed to measure the impacts on wildlife and forest regeneration.
- Forestry & Woodland Caribou (53) MNR’s Forest Management Guidelines for the Conservation of Woodland Caribou will be used together with new forest-harvesting guidelines that allow clearcuts of unlimited size. But woodland caribou do not tolerate human activities, and logging will most likely wipe them out.
- Central Ontario Forests – Under Stress from Acid Precipitation (111) The forests of central Ontario are exposed to such high levels of acid rain that there has been a critical loss of the key soil nutrients needed to sustain tree growth. In some areas, the loss is so severe that the forest will not grow again if existing trees are cut down.
- Provincial Parks Act (115) This Act has not been significantly changed for almost 50 years, despite advances in understanding environmental management and an increase from eight provincial parks to several hundred. EBR applicants say that the Act fails to maintain ecological integrity and biodiversity in the parks, nor does it espressly prohibit logging, mining, hunting and hydroelectric development.
During the 2001/2002 ECO reporting period, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) finalized important new regulations intended to reduce air emissions from industries and vehicles. The ECO will continue to watch closely to see whether MOE follows through on these initiatives.
- Emissions Reduction Trading (84) A new MOE regulation sets caps on electricity sector emissions that are major contributors to smog. The regulation also sets new rules for a system of emissions reduction trading that permits power plants to buy credits from other industries that have cut emissions. This means that the electricity sector can reduce its own emissions by far less than the stated targets. Credits can also be purchased from uncapped industries that may be increasing their overall emissions through increased production. MOE says it intends to cap these uncapped industries, but in the meantime, overall emissions are free to rise.
- Lakeview Thermal Generating Station (88) Under a new MOE regulation requiring Lakeview to stop burning coal by April 2005, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emission rates will improve. But the new regulation still allows Lakeview to use its existing inefficient boilers rather than requiring efficient gas technology, which would cut pollutants further.
- Monitoring and Reporting of Emissions of Airborne Contaminants (91) A new MOE regulation will industries to monitor and report their emissions of airborne contaminants to the ministry and to the public, but until the ministry compiles and analyzes the data and provides the results to the public, it will be impossible to track overall trends in emissions.
- Changes in the Drive Clean Program (97) Changes by MOE to the Drive Clean program, including extending the program to Ontario’s entire smog zone, will help to reduce smog. But the growing number of vehicles in Ontario means other measures are also needed, including provincial support for public transit and land use planning that discourages urban sprawl.
- Control Orders for Sudbury Smelters (108) MOE control orders will require Sudbury’s two largest smelters to reduce total loadings and ground-level concentrations of sulphur dioxide, which will help to alleviate the negative impacts of acidic deposition on forest ecosystems in the region. But for the next 13 years, Sudbury residents will still be exposed to short-term SO2 concentration peaks that are over 30 per cent higher than levels permitted elsewhere in Ontario.
- Managing Ozone-Depleting Substances (161) MOE has banned the use of CFCs in refilling air conditioners in cars and trucks, although significant amounts of CFC-based refrigerants continue to be used in air conditioners and fridges manufactured before 1996. Ontario will have to rely on facility in Alberta to destroy surplus CFCs, and the fear is that old products awaiting destruction can leak and containers break down if the products are stored too long.
- Review of the SWARU Incinerator (123) Using the Environmental Bill of Rights, Hamilton residents asked MOE to review the certificates of approval for the city’s SWARU incinerator, a major source of dioxin and furan emissions. MOE subsequently proposed changes to the incinerator’s certificates of approval that are expected to reduce significantly the environmental impacts both on local residents and on people in the rest of southern Ontario.
- Air Emissions and Odours from Cabinet Manufacturing (126) Environment Canada data show that two cabinet manufacturing companies in Thornhill, north of Toronto, are increasing emissions of toxic substances that can cause headaches, dizziness, intoxication and eye irritation. MOE turned down an EBR application for investigation of both companies, saying that the odour incidents have decreased and that an investigation is already under way. But MOE appears to be carrying out only routine abatement activities.
Land Use Planning
Measures to reduce smog are being counteracted by the growing number of vehicles in Ontario. Other measures are also needed to clean Ontario’s air, including provincial support for public transit and land use planning that discourages urban sprawl.
- Land Use Planning, Smart Growth and Ontario’s Natural Heritage (70) MNR has not yet been able to measure whether natural heritage is being protected in southern Ontario or to develop the indicators needed for reviewing the Provincial Policy Statement, which contain the province’s land use policies. While the term “Smart Growth” typically refers to policies such as stopping urban sprawl and transferring resources from highways to public transit, the stated Smart Growth vision of the Ontario Government is to expand choices in transportation and housing, without restricting anyone’s lifestyle choice.
- Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (72) The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan protects the significant natural heritage features of the Moraine and represents an important step forward in environmental land use planning in Ontario. The Plan should be considered as a model to improve land use planning throughout southern Ontario.
- Reusing Brownfields/Saving Greenfields (83) The Brownfields Statute Law Amendment Act provides clear rules for cleaning up Ontario’s brownfields, along with the planning and financing tools to enable the process. The ECO believes the Act is a good first effort at addressing a significant problem.
The recommendations of the Walkerton Commission of Inquiry suggest that new policies are needed to protect Ontario’s water. The ECO annual report focuses on water quality issues again this year.
- Monitoring of Trends in Rural Water Quality in Southern Ontario (42) Because MOE’s river monitoring system was cut from 730 monitoring stations in 1995 to 240 stations in 2000, the ministry doesn’t have the data needed to assess the effects of rural water pollution sources, including intensive livestock farming and septic systems. Fecal coliforms and pathogenic bacteria and protozoa are found in many rural streams, and nitrate concentrations are trending upward in some watersheds.
- Fisheries Act (57) Confusion about which federal and provincial ministries should enforce the federal Fisheries Act, one of Canada’s most effective tools for prosecuting water pollution, has meant that the Act has not been effectively used to address water pollution threats such as discharges from sewage treatment plants. This has compromised the sustainability of Ontario’s fisheries and undermined the viability of our aquatic ecosystems.
- Sound-Sorb (129) Fecal coliform bacteria and high levels of E.coli have been found in Sound-Sorb, a mixture of paper mill sludge and sand used to build berms around gun clubs. MOE undertook a review of Sound-Sorb after local residents filed an EBR application, concerned that the material is being applied directly to land without any leachate control and without an examination how Sound-Sorb may affect surface water and groundwater.
- Canada-Ontario Agreement on the Great Lakes (67) The federal and Ontario governments have released a new COA. To date, results of the 30-year collaboration between the two governments to clean up the Great Lakes have been mixed – some harmful pollutant discharges have decreased and water quality has improved. But serious issues still have to be addressed: contaminated sediments, exotic species, habitat loss, bioaccumulative toxic substances, and hormone-mimicking chemicals.