By attacking this week’s Fraser Institute report that closing Ontario’s coal-fired electricity plants had no significant impact on provincial air quality, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are biting off their own tails.
They are directly contradicting statements by the previous Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty a decade ago, when Ontario was campaigning to reduce U.S. cross-border emissions from 150 coal-fired plants in the American Midwest.
The Fraser study by economists Ross McKitrick and Elmira Aliakbari, first reported by the Sun, says Ontario’s closure of its five coal plants by 2014 — costing billions of dollars and helping to send electricity prices skyrocketing — did not significantly improve Ontario’s air quality.
They said since these plants weren’t major contributors to air pollution — which the Liberal government knew from its own study in 2005 — Liberal claims closing them resulted in dramatic improvements to air quality are “implausible.”
Ontario’s air quality, McKitrick and Aliakbari say, was mainly affected by cross-border pollution from U.S. coal plants.
In rushing to discredit the Fraser report — because it undermines their claim that closing Ontario’s coal plants saved the health-care system $3 billion annually, thousands of lives and lowered hospital admissions — the Wynne Liberals are discrediting what the McGuinty Liberals said a decade ago.
At that time, McGuinty and his environment minister, Laurel Broten, argued most of Ontario’s coal pollution — up to 90% — came from the U.S.
Here’s McGuinty speaking in 2005: “On a typical bad air day, we know that more than 50% of the smog hovering over Ontario originates in the U.S. Midwest and Ohio Valley.”
Here’s Broten in a submission to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2006: “More than half of the air pollution in Ontario originates in the United States, in particular from the electricity production sector. At some Ontario locations, including Sarnia and Windsor, more than 90% of the air pollution can come from U.S. sources.”
Here’s then Toronto mayor David Miller, writing in support of Broten’s submission: “Emissions from U.S. sources are responsible for between 50% and 90% of the air pollution that blankets Toronto on smog days and coal-fired plants in the Midwestern United States are the worst offenders.”
Here’s Dr. David V.J. Bell, former dean of York University’s faculty of environmental studies: “Most of the air pollution effecting Ontario residents comes from the Midwestern states in the U.S.”
In 2006, on behalf of Toronto, Windsor and other cities, the Sierra Club petitioned the EPA to reduce cross-border coal pollution, noting 150 coal plants in seven Midwestern states — “among the oldest and dirtiest in the U.S.” — produced 4.5 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 1.6 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide annually.
By comparison, Ontario’s five coal-fired plants produced 153,750 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 57,875 tonnes of nitrogen oxide annually.
Ohio’s 24 coal plants alone produced eight times the sulphur dioxide, six times the nitrogen oxide and five times the greenhouse gases.
While the Wynne government cites a dramatic drop in smog days, pollution-related deaths and hospital admissions since Ontario closed its coal plants, McKitrick and Aliakbari suggest this was mainly due to a dramatic drop in U.S. cross-border pollution between 2002 and 2014, when monthly average nitrogen oxide emissions fell by more than half, from 556 megatonnes to 263.
The main reasons were the 2008 recession and the fracking boom, leading to the replacement of many U.S. coal plants with cleaner burning natural gas.
Toronto Sun by Lorrie Goldstein
Jan 18th 2017