2005/2006 Environmental Protection Report

Neglecting our Obligations

The 2005/06 ECO annual report was submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on October 3, 2006.

Key Findings

Adapting to a Changing Climate: Neglecting Our Basic Obligations? (p.59)
Ontario has not yet developed a formal strategy to deal with adaptation to climate change, an approach now considered essential for ensuring that the province’s ecosystems and built environments – such as bridges, dams, sewage treatment plants, or drainage systems – will be able to withstand the effects of climate change. Projections are that the change in climate will bring more unpredictable weather, including intense rain and ice storms, heat waves and droughts, lower water levels in the Great Lakes and increased costs for cooling buildings, along with threats to the health or even survival of local plant and animal species.

Amending the Nutrient Management Regulation (p.111)
The government has amended the regulation under the Nutrient Management Act that sets out how farmers must apply manure and biosolids such as sewage sludge to their land. Unfortunately, only six years after the Walkerton tragedy, some of the changes have weakened both accountability and the assurance that farmers are following the rules that protect human health. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs no longer has to approve the nutrient management strategies of large livestock operations unless they are expanding or are located within 100 metres of a municipal well. The changes also mean that farmers are no longer legally required to keep records of how they comply with their own nutrient management plans, which may make key aspects of both the regulation and the Nutrient Management Act itself virtually unenforceable.

Prescribing Education: Critical to Future Sustainability (p.123)
Once a leader in the field, Ontario has now fallen far behind other provinces and the U.S. in environmental education, the key to shaping the values that will lead to sustainable lifestyles and to a world where humans and other species can survive and flourish. The ECO agrees with many members of the public, who believe that making the Ontario Ministry of Education subject to the Environmental Bill of Rights would have a positive impact on the decisions the ministry makes about environmental education.

A Sustainable Transportation System for Ontario: MOE and MTO Remove One Roadblock, But Others Remain (p.44)
Ontario’s transportation sector has major impacts on the environment. They include a massive demand for aggregate, degraded waterways, fragmented ecosystems, and almost one-third of the greenhouse gases emitted in the province. Yet people in Ontario can’t use the Environmental Bill of Rights to participate in the critical spending decisions made by the Ministry of Finance to fund the roads and highways that leave such significant ecological footprints on the landscape. In 1995, the government removed this ministry from the list of ministries subject to the EBR, and despite many requests from the public, it has not been reinstated. The ECO recommends strongly that the Ministry of Transportation takes the lead on developing a strategy to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation sector in Ontario, consult the public on the strategy and post it on the Environmental Registry to ensure wide public consultation.

Updating Ontario’s Regulatory Framework for Local Air Quality (p.89)
The Ministry of the Environment’s recent update of air quality rules for industry has brought in better ways of estimating concentrations of pollutants, a stronger approach for developing air standards, and more detailed requirements for industrial facilities to show they are complying with the standards. The success of the reform, however, will depend on the capacity of MOE to inspect and enforce compliance with the new regulations; at this point, the ministry’s strained resources allow inspections of only about 1-2% of the facilities per year. The new regulations also don’t deal adequately with annual loadings of contaminants such as lead or mercury to the environment, which can build up to toxic concentrations over the years in local plant or animal life. Moreover, updated air standards for certain “high priority” contaminants such as nickel – known to be involved in respiratory cancers – are not yet finalized, though the ministry had promised to update standards for these substances as long as 10 years ago.

Ontario’s Industry Emissions Trading System for Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Dioxide (p.97)
A new regulation that caps air emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides by major industrial sectors will rely on an emissions trading system to reduce these pollutants, which have been implicated in human health impacts ranging from respiratory complications to cardiac disease. Major shortcomings in the new regulation, however, will limit MOE’s ability to generate any significant reduction of NOx and SO2 emissions. For example, emission caps for many industry sectors remain close to current levels and in one case, will even increase over time, and industrial sectors that are still “uncapped” can reduce their emissions and sell their credits to capped facilities. Uncapped industries can also generate new sources of NOx and SO2 emissions.

Ontario’s Sand and Gravel Extraction Policy: Overdue for Review (p.38)
The Aggregate Resources Act: Conservation or Unconstrained Consumption? (p.141)
Ontario consumes a massive amount of aggregate each year – 14 tonnes per person – which means the province is left with thousands of pits and quarries, most of them close to southern Ontario’s areas of intensive growth – and often in areas of significant natural heritage such as the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The current regulatory and policy framework for pits and quarries does not adequately protect the environment. Key shortcomings include poor compliance by aggregate operations, now a largely self-regulating industry; poor enforcement by the province; and a low rate of rehabilitation of pits and quarries. Data available for the 10 years between 1992 and 2001 indicated that the area disturbed by aggregate extraction exceeded the area rehabilitated by a 2 to1 ratio. Moreover, the ARA does not apply to most pits and quarries on private lands in northern Ontario, so aggregate operations there have fewer environmental rules. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Natural Resources, with the responsibility for stewardship of aggregate resources, has made almost no progress on developing strategies for conserving or recycling aggregate.

Neglecting Our Water Wells (p.51)
Though studies have shown that a high proportion of private drinking water wells in Ontario are contaminated with bacteria, nitrates or other dangerous substances, serious limitations in the Wells Regulation make it difficult for the Ministry of the Environment, now severely lacking trained staff, to prosecute violations. Revisions to Wells Regulation in 2003 lowered chlorination levels for disinfecting new wells to an “inadequate” level, according to an MOE advisory panel, and uncertainties in the interpretation of the complicated provisions of the regulation also mean that it is extremely hard to enforce.

60% Waste Diversion by 2008 – Pipe Dream or Reality? (p.26)
In 2004, the Ministry of the Environment announced its goal of diverting 60% of solid waste from landfills or incineration by 2008. However, the ministry waited more than two years, until 2006, to announce specific plans. They include the development of sustainable markets for diverted waste, enforcing the 3Rs regulations, and timely approvals of innovative new technologies. But the two-year lag between announcing the 60% goal and the planned changes to waste diversion methods has proved costly. Diversion rates in multi-unit buildings and the commercial and industrial sectors are still far below this goal. Moreover, the time required to put new waste diversion regulations into effect and to get approvals for new recycling facilities and innovative new technologies will take years, not months.

The Environmental Impacts of Ontario’s Small and Aging Landfills – Who is Keeping Track? (p.33)
Faced with dwindling provincial landfill capacity and the impending closure of U.S. borders to Ontario’s waste, municipalities have begun to increase the total capacity and daily fill rates of their aging local landfills. But the last inventory of Ontario waste disposal sites is 15 years old and provides no details about a site’s total waste capacity and whether it complies with provincial standards – minimal requirements that may already be outdated. The Ministry of the Environment has indicated it lacks both the staff and financial resources needed to compile a new inventory of sites, to develop regulations compelling landfill owners to report updated information, or even to audit that information – a startling admission that makes it clear that MOE lacks the information necessary to regulate Ontario’s aging landfills and to monitor whether they are posing a risk to the environment or to human health.

Brownfield Development Becomes More Transparent – What’s Good for the Goose Should be Good for the Gander (p.58)
The Ministry of the Environment is taking positive steps to deal with the redevelopment of brownfields – lands not being used because of contamination. But the Ministry of Transportation, rather than taking action to clean up its storage site in Thunder Bay contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons and metals, is instead arguing that since the property now has no value, property tax relief is warranted. The Assessment Review Board ruled in favour of MTO and reduced the assessed value of the property from $71,000 to $1. Today, the ministry continues to save money both by fighting for lower property assessments and by taking no action to remediate the site.

Wildlife in Captivity: The Licensing of Ontario’s Zoos (p.150)
Two Ontario residents used the Environmental Bill of Rights to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources to review whether Ontario’s zoo licensing requirements are capable of protecting captive wildlife, the environment and the public. An audit commissioned by the EBR applicants showed that conditions in more than 75% of Ontario zoos do not meet basic animal welfare standards. Cages were often dirty, barren and ramshackle and lacked shade and shelter, and grounds were sometimes too small for animals to move about freely. Other zoos were without adequate barriers to keep animals from escaping into the wild or to prevent danger to the public. MNR told the applicants that its current zoo licensing approach is sufficient, and that in Ontario, unlike other provinces, “exotic” species are not protected by zoo legislation, only native fish and wildlife. The ECO recommends very strongly that MNR engage in a formal and open review of its policies for licensing zoos, and that the ministry post its proposal on this issue on the Environmental Registry so the public can comment on it.

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