Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Canadian cities join fight against dirty US coal power

Canadian municipalities representing a population of over five million people today formally petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce contaminant emissions from the 150 coal-fired power plants in seven Midwestern states. The petition focuses on emissions from the plants – among the oldest and dirtiest in the U.S. – that cause smog and climate change impacts in Canada .

Sierra Legal filed the petition on behalf of the cities of Toronto , Windsor , Laval , Halifax , Gatineau , Chateauguay , and Cornwall , the Regions of Peel and Durham , Essex County , and others. 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.

“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 decision-makers.”

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 up to 90% of air pollution is from the U.S. side. Impacts on the U.S. side are equally severe.

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 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO 2) and 1.6 million tonnes of nitrogen oxides (NO X) 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% or more.

“Since power plant pollution makes people sick and can cut lives short, we understand the Canadian concern,” said Peter M. 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.”

The 150 plants also emit approximately the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of Canada — including transportation, industry, and Alberta’s tar sands — combined. Climate change caused by accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is linked to severe weather events such as heat waves and violent storms.

“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. There is precedent for such a legal action. 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 shortly thereafter.

Acid rain, for which NOx and SO 2 are the major precursors, continues to be a major problem in Eastern Canada. International reports confirm the need for a further 75% reduction in contaminant emissions to bring lakes and rivers back to health. The States identified in the petition are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

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