Canadian Cities Petition U.S. to Cut Power Plant Pollution
TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, November 1, 2006
Canadians say that emissions from coal-burning U.S. power plants blowing across the border are endangering their health and warming the climate, and they want the pollution to stop. Today municipalities in Ontario and Quebec introduced legal action aimed at getting the U.S. government to require reduced emissions.
Canadian municipalities representing a population of over five million people formally petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to reduce polluting emissions from 150 coal-fired power plants in seven Midwestern states. The petition focuses on emissions from the plants that cause smog and climate change impacts in Canada.
Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed the petition on behalf of cities in Ontario and Quebec, including Toronto, Windsor, Laval, Halifax, Gatineau, Chateauguay, and Cornwall, the Regions of Peel, and the Durham Region in Essex County.
Specifically the petition asks the EPA Administrator to give formal notification to the Ohio Valley/Midwest states of Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania requiring them to revise their State Implementation Plans to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide.
"A rejection of the petition by the EPA gives parties to the petition the right to sue in U.S. courts," said Albert Koehl, a lawyer with Sierra Legal.
The municipalities claim that tiny particles emitted by the power plants can penetrate deep into people's lungs and cause adverse health effects and premature death. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide contribute to acid rain that threatens the health of thousands of Canadian lakes and other parts of the environment.
"The health and welfare impacts that we establish affect people in their local communities," the petition states. "In the case of climate change the impacts affect everyone. In both cases those affected may live thousands of kilometres from the sources of the emissions and derive no benefit from the electricity that is generated and that causes those emissions."
Originally filed last year on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, the amended petition also includes new data on smog, acid rain, and climate change blamed on some of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States.
"Citizens on both sides of the border are harmed by toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants," said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health. "The city of Toronto has been fighting on many fronts to advocate on both sides of the border for cleaner air, and this is one more action. The voice of Canadians must be heard by American decisionmakers."
Ontario government data show that about half of the 5,000 premature deaths caused by smog in the province each year are attributable to transboundary pollution. In border cities such as Windsor, across the river from Detroit, Michigan, up to 90 percent of air pollution is from the U.S. side.
Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, the EPA must require emission reductions when there is evidence of harm to Canadians from American sources. The petition cites evidence from international reports documenting the flow of air pollution from the U.S. into Canada.
The 150 power plants identified in the petition emit in total 4.5 million metric tonnes of sulfur dioxide and 1.6 million metric tonnes of nitrogen oxides annually - more than all major Canadian industrial sources of these contaminants combined.
Available pollution control equipment can reduce power plant emissions of these contaminants by 90 percent or more, the petition claims.
"Since power plant pollution makes people sick and can cut lives short, we understand the Canadian concern," said Peter Iwanowicz, vice president for the American Lung Association of New York State.
"Whether it's a fight against Ontario coal-fired power plants or against Midwestern U.S. plants, this is a fight that unites citizens on both sides of the border against dirty power and the lack of action by politicians," said Iwanowicz.
Sierra Legal estimates that the 150 coal-burning power plants emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of Canada combined, including transportation, industry, and Alberta's tar sands.
Climate change caused by accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is linked to severe weather events such as heat waves and violent storms.
There is precedent for Canadian jurisdictions to pursue a lawsuit in U.S. courts. In the late 1980s the Province of Ontario sued the EPA after the agency failed to take action on acid rain. The suit ultimately failed on technical grounds but positive action on acid rain followed soon after.
Acid rain, for which NOx and SO2 are the major precursors, continues to be a problem in Eastern Canada. Sierra Legal points to international reports that confirm the need for a further 75 percent reduction in contaminant emissions to bring lakes and rivers back to health.
The Canadian environmental groups on the petition include Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ecology Action Centre, STOP, Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Development, and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.