Environmental Laws – Do They Help Or Hurt the Environment?

When you build a wind farm in Ontario that is more than 2 megawatts (basically more than one large turbine), you are required to go through a Provincial Environmental Assessment.

Environmental assessment laws are supposedly designed to protect the environment. Doing an evironmental assessment is quite involved. You must give public notice, host at least one public meeting, and write a report on all aspects of the environmental impact of the project. Bird studies are done. Archeological studies are done. A survey of flora and fauna in the area, and identification of “Valuable Ecosystem Components” – VEC’s is required. Assessment of the impact on ground water, the impact on erosion, impact of noise during construction, impact of truck traffic, the visual impact etc. The process is a bit like root canal, but it takes longer, and it costs more. It is a great make work program for consultants.

You prepare reports, and propose “mitigating measures”, which should always be spoken in the same tone of voice as Preston Manning when he talked of “eliminate the deficit”. These are actions taken to reduce or eliminate the impact of your project. For example, you may propose to use existing roads instead of building a new one. Or you may construct only during certain hours to minimize the impact of construction noise on neighbouring cattle populations. Or you may offer a free cat spaying clinic for local barn cats, to offset the impact on birds. (This mitigating measure would be very inexpensive, since spaying one cat would save more birds than are killed by a wind turbine).

The reports that are prepared are circulated to interested parties. So various Ministries, like Natural Resources, Transportation, Environment, Fisheries, Energy, local conservation authorities, local municipal council, First Nations, the Rotary Club, Lioness, Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, Free Masons, and the Glee Club all get to have their say. In the case of Ministries, approval of the project can be withheld or delayed if they have concerns.

If you also apply for the Wind Power Production Incentive, then you also need to do a Federal Environmental assessment, which has slightly different rules. Local municipal council, or the Planning Dept. may require more assessment.

Interestingly, the impact that wind turbines have on the environment is not allowed to be considered. In my report, I talked of reduced release of greenhouse gases, as electricity generated by wind would not need to be generated by coal or natural gas. I talked about the health impacts on people of reducing the amount of coal and natural gas required to generate electricity. I quoted the Ontario Medical Association study that that found that 5000 Ontarion’s die prematurely from smog, and 20% of Ontario source smog is from our coal burning plants. I stated that if humans, who check into hospitals, are affected, it was reasonable to assume that mammals, amphibians, insects, plants, fungi, bacteria and, yes, birds, were also adversely affected by burning coal.

I was told to put these arguments into an Appendix. Evidently there is no role for looking at the whole environment when it comes to the environmental assessment process. So I re-wrote the report.

The Federal Ministry of the Environment weighed in with comments. There was concern about the impact on nesting ground birds. I was told to perform no construction activities from May 1 – July 23.

The turbines on being built on a hay field. Perhaps Environment Canada biologists don’t understand what happens when you harvest hay. Around mid June, the hay is cut, requiring a tractor and cutter to pass over the entire field. Then it may be raked, to help it dry. Another tractor pass. Then it is baled. Another tractor pass. Then the bales are collected. Another tractor pass. Then the whole thing happens again for the second cut in August. Evidently, these nesting ground birds are tough enough to survive this, and the seagulls who descend on a hay field after it is cut. But if you use 2% of the field to construct wind turbines, you will adversely affect nesting ground birds.

Farmers don’t need to do an evironmental assessment to cut the hay. A builder doesn’t need to do an environmental assessment to build a home, which has a foundation the same footprint as a wind turbine, and which will kill more birds if it has picture windows. You don’t need to do an environmental assessment when you buy a car, which contributes to climate change, smog, and kills mammals and birds.

There is no environmental assessment when a new ship load of coal arrives at Nanticoke, Ontario’s largest coal plant. And a new shipload is burned every few days. And we know the impact of that.

Recently, the provincial government exempted their electricity supply plan from the environmental assessment process.  Evidently they realize that the process is tedious and unconstructive, does nothing to protect the environment, and wastes time.  While each project will continue to require environmental assessment, the overall plan, which calls for more aggressive conservation more renewables, and more nuclear is exempt. Environmental groups vocally criticized the government for exempting the overall plan from assessment. If the overall plan was subject to the process, would that delay the construction of renewables, and the implementation of conservation? All to put the plan into a process that doesn’t protect the environment anyways? Seems like a pretty pointless exercise.

Construction on the two new turbines begins next Monday. July 24. One day after the very tough nesting ground birds, that have survived the haying operation, leave their nests.

Nanticoke is pleased.

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