"A Major Disappointment": Osgoode Environmental Clinic Calls on Ministry to Improve Cumulative Effects Assessment Proposal

On November 9, 2017, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) released a proposal ("The Proposal") for a new policy for Cumulative Effects Assessment in air approvals posted to the Environmental Registry. The proposal is a response to years of pressure for the Ministry to take action against increasingly high levels of pollution and their associated health impacts, particularly in the Sarnia and Hamilton regions. These high pollution levels have had severe impacts on communities, particularly the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, where community members are forced to breathe the toxic soup from so-called “overstressed airsheds”, long blighted by high concentrations of multiple toxic contaminants from a concentration of major industrial sources of pollution.

Osgoode’s Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic is focused on contributing to the creation of policy and law that enacts principles of justice and enables access to a healthy environment for everyone in Ontario. Given our guiding principles, we were extremely disappointed by the Ministry’s proposal, which neither provides a “Cumulative Effects Assessment,” nor provides means to improve the air quality in regions that are already facing high levels of air pollution and the associated health risks.

Earlier this afternoon, the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic submitted a letter addressing our concerns about the Proposal through the Environmental Registry's public comment function.

View our letter here: EBR Registry 013-1680 EJS Clinic Submission.Feb7.2018

Our primary criticisms of the Proposal are as follows:

    • The Proposal cannot reasonably be described as a policy on Cumulative Effects Assessment, as it focuses only on two contaminants in the Hamilton/Burlington region (Benzo(a)Pyrene and Benzene) and one contaminant in the Sarnia/Corunna region (Benzene). A Cumulative Effects Assessment would examine the impact that the totality of industrial activities proposed is affecting people’s bodies. This would require looking at how groups of contaminants, like carcinogens, may independently be low enough in a given airshed as to not be considered a health risk, but taken collectively may provide a persistent and clear danger to those exposed.
    • The Proposal would not improve air quality in Ontario because it does not require existing facilities to reduce their emissions below their current levels. Subsequently, the MOECC’s Proposal would do nothing meaningful to remedy the excessive levels of air pollution in communities that are currently facing health crises.
    • Despite recognizing that the cumulative impact on air quality from additional or expanding facilities will worsen and already considerable pollution burden, the MOECC would continue to sanction increased emissions in these areas under The Proposal. The Proposal only requires modest concessions from new sources of emissions that would marginally slow the growth rate of emissions. The Ministry would also continue to be able to provide Site Specific Standards (SSSs) and Technical Standards to permit facilities to emit beyond typical Ambient Air Quality thresholds (AAQCs).
    • Emissions are often generated as “fugitive emissions,” such as those from leaky pipes or storage tanks, and during flaring, start-ups, and shut-downs. These emissions are not included in the Emission Summary and Dispersion Modelling reports, leading to the under-estimation of ambient concentration levels of key contaminants.

Based on the critical shortcomings in the MOECC’s Proposal, we recommend that the MOECC revise its Proposal by adopting the following recommendations to strengthen its approach and fulfill its mandate.