Getting rid of coal in electricity generation made Ontario
Canada's leader in reducing GHG emissions. Now that we have a
remarkably climate-friendly electrical system, what about other
uses of coal in Ontario? The Ontario Ministry of the Environment
and Climate Change (MOECC) says it will get out of the way of coal
reductions by heavy industries such as concrete, lime, iron and
steel manufacturers, who are the largest users of coal in the
province and account for approximately 11% of industrial GHG
Phasing out coal in electrical generation is the main reason
that MOECC says it will achieve over 90% of 2014 targets for the reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions (GHGs) (6% below 1990 levels by 2014) and more than
60% towards 2020 targets (15% below 1990 levels by 2020). But
Ontario's energy-intensive manufacturing industries still use a
lot of coal.
One of the big reasons is they do is that Ontario makes it very
hard for industries to switch from coal to alternative, waste-based
fuels. For example,
Lafarge spent millions of dollars on an application to burn waste
tires in its cement kiln. The MOE (as it then was) agreed the
emissions would be acceptable, but an unprecedented decision by the
Environmental Review Tribunal, upheld by the
courts, made the application process too expensive and risky. In
essence, the ERT said that "no reasonable person" could
have made the decision to approve burning tires instead of coal,
because it was an innovative decision. Lafarge kept on burning coal
instead. It's a sad case study of environmental rules being
used to produce a result that was bad for the environment.
Now, Ontario is proposing changes to the Environmental
Protection Act (EPA) to help the province's
energy-intensive manufacturing industries try again to transition
from coal to some alternative fuels such as biomass (e.g., corn
stover) or non-recyclable residual waste that would otherwise be
disposed of as waste in landfills.
So how is Ontario encouraging the switch? As of now, the
industries that want to use these alternative fuels are regulated
under provincial law as waste disposal sites even though they are
not in the waste management business. The change in law would mean
that these facilities would still need to meet regulatory standards
for air emissions and wastewater discharges; however, they would no
longer require Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) classifying
the sites as "waste disposal sites," and Environmental
Assessment Act (EAA) requirements would no longer apply. The
facilities would have flexibility to assess different fuels at
their operations before applying for approval to use them on a
According to the MOECC, many jurisdictions such as Quebec, parts
of the U.S. and some European countries have a well-established
practice of using such alternative fuels for industrial processes,
and regulatory frameworks have been updated to encourage this type
of fuel switching in an environmentally responsible way. Changing
Ontario's regulations to encourage the use of alternative fuels
by the cement and steel sectors will actually just keep Ontario
competitive with other jurisdictions that have already gone in this
Unfortunately, it's not clear that the proposed reforms
would solve the problem that stymied Lafarge's application.
The public comment period on the latest version of
these regulations is open from December 4, 2014 through February 2,
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Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change continues to roll out its Climate Change Action Plan with its proposed GHG guide for projects that are subject to the province's Environmental Assessment Act.
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