By Mike Archer. The Vancouver Sun did an in depth story on Vancouver’s waste-to-energy (WTE) debate without once mentioning the Fraser Valley airshed as a significant aspect of the debate.
They did, however, shed some very important light on the business interests aligned on either side of the debate and some of the money being made by former politicians in return for their knowledge of and access to the inner circles of power in Victoria.
Photo: Vancouver garbage makes its way to Washington landfill sites through Abbotsford
Turns out there is a lot of money at stake and, whatever their posturing, no one involved really seems gives a damn about the Fraser Valley airshed.
First of all; other than in BC politics the word ‘airshed’ doesn’t exist. Secondly; the notion that it is somehow endangered is a fiction latched onto by the politicians who, correctly saw the value in fighting against the SE2 proposal which would have polluted and endangered the air we breathe in the Fraser Valley.
What the politicians getting paid to oppose Vancouver’s plans are using, with the help of the Fraser Valley newspaper media, as a wedge issue to make money for their employers, is the notion that, since we have a white haze during inversions during the summer months which blocks the view of the mountains we have an endangered airshed.
While it makes for a good story and great politics it is patently false. The 2001 Environment Canada Air Quality Study demonstrated that the white haze is a result of the combination of gases from our intensive agricultural practices – the waste produced by dairy and chicken factories – and the salt-filled air that blows in from the Pacific Ocean and settle here during an inversion.
The study further pointed out that the biggest human source of pollution in the air of the Fraser Valley was the exhaust from diesel trucks and, to a lesser extent, cars. Think about it; Vancouver is not a big industrial city. We don’t produce a lot of pollution other than vehicle exhaust.
So the politicians, like Abbotsford Councillor Patricia Ross, Mayor Bruce Banman and Chilliwack Mayor and Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District Sharon Gaetz who oppose Vancouver’s WTE proposal on the grounds that their precious Fraser Valley airshed, is threatened by the plan are simply wrong. Popular position to take – no basis in reality.
While environmentalists who are proposing a zero waste solution have a more solid grounding in fact, fighting a solution like WTE that is more environmentally friendly than harming the airshed by trucking garbage into Abbotsford and through the Valley, because it isn’t the final or best solution in an all or nothing battle, risk doing more harm than good.
The real battle lines are being drawn based on the money to be made handling and disposing of our garbage by some very big companies. The politicians fall into two camps – those like former Chilliwack mayor, FVRD chair and cabinet minister John Les who are shamelessly getting paid for their political posturing, and those like Abbotsford’s Patricia Ross and Bruce Banman who appear oblivious to the realities of the situation and are just hoping to catch a a prevailing environmental wind to fill their political sails.
Abbotsford’s Investment In Vancouver’s Garbage
Abbotsford is heavily involved in Vancouver’s garbage debate from a financial point of view. According to the Sun, “Much of the estimated 70,000 tonnes of Metro Vancouver garbage exiting the region winds up at BFI Canada’s transfer station in south Abbotsford, near the Huntingdon border crossing, where it is sent south to the Roosevelt landfill in Washington state.
“Belkorp, through its subsidiary, Wastech, has a $35-million contract with Metro Vancouver to handle 210,000 tonnes of garbage at its Cache Creek landfill and to operate four waste-transfer stations – North Vancouver, Surrey, Coquitlam, and Matsqui.”
In addition, by undercutting Vancouver’s $107-a-tonne tipping fee with fees in the order of $70 per tonne Abbotsford is, in effect sucking much needed garbage out of Vancouver which, if Vancouver goes ahead with its waste-to-energy incinerators, it will cause a problem for Vancouver if it intends to maintain a steady flow to its incinerator.
Those arguing against the whole idea of incinerating waste point to reports of chronic problems with waste-to-energy incinerators through an uneven and unreliable flow of garbage and reliance on a certain type of garbage to make them make economic sense.Incinerators Plagued With Problems
According to a recent series of articles on Watershed Sentinel, “A recent background paper by the Recycling Council of BC (RCBC) explains: “Existing WTE facilities with mass-burn technologies, such as those found in Europe and the currently operating Burnaby WTE facility, typically achieve power outputs of about 0.6 MWh/tonne of MSW.” Proponents of next-generation WTE incinerators claim to be able to significantly increase that output.”
“As the RCBC paper states: “A WTE facility requires the carbon in materials such as paper, plastic and tires to produce energy, yet much more energy would be conserved if these materials were recycled than would be produced if they were destroyed in a WTE facility.”
“And now it becomes understandable why the plastics industry is part of the incinerator lobby.
“In the UK and Europe, activists are not only fighting incinerators, they’re fighting to keep their recycling programs alive – much less expanding them to include more plastics – in the face of government cuts (as in Britain) and the insatiable maw of next-generation WTE incineration.”
|According to Dr. Paul Connett, a US expert on incineration, for the taxpayers, an incinerator is an “economic disaster,” but for some people an incinerator is a “gravy train.
“That “gravy train” is on a collision course with communities across Canada, especially in terms of environmental and public health issues.”
The technology Vancouver seems to have been sold on has a dubious track record and the longer it takes to make a decision the less their plan appears to be as well thought out as they would have us believe.
A Battle Of The Politically Connected
“On one side of the duel is Wastech Services Ltd., a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Belkorp Industries, which wants to keep Metro Vancouver’s residual garbage flowing to the Cache Creek landfill which it manages. Wastech also operates recycling facilities and depots. Metro Vancouver currently pays about $30 million per year to Wastech to take 450,000 tonnes of waste at the Cache Creek landfill, located about 300 kilometres north of Vancouver.
“Belkorp’s senior vice-president is Gary Collins, former BC finance minister in the Campbell government. Belkorp’s registered lobbyist is Ken Dobell, former deputy minister of BC and former special adviser to the premier.”
BFI has hired lobbyist Dimitri Pantazopoulos, whose high profile postings from 2011 to 2012 included Clark’s principal secretary and assistant deputy minister of intergovernmental relations. He served as the Liberals’ chief pollster during the 2013 provincial election.Belkorp also recently hired former Chilliwack Mayor, developer and cabinet minister Les Turns Incinerator Opposition Into Cash “>John Les to represent them.
The one group that seems to be winning no matter what happens to Vancouver’s garbage or the Fraser Valley airshed is retired politicians.
The Plasco Fiasco
“Meanwhile, Plasco’s Ottawa demonstration plant, which received permits to gasify 85 tonnes of MSW per day, has been plagued with technical problems for years. Of course, that didn’t stop the company from pitching gasification across Canada and around the globe.
“One of those pitches was to the City Council of Port Moody, BC, which in June 2008 entered into a non-binding letter of intent with Plasco to look into the feasibility of building a WTE incinerator to handle 400 tonnes of MSW per day, most of it coming from Metro Vancouver.
“Elaine Golds, conservation chair for the Burke Mountain Naturalists, was involved in the community’s fight against the WTE incinerator, which ultimately led to Plasco withdrawing from its participation with Port Moody in October 2008.
“Says Golds, “The real game-changer for me was finding out what a fraud the whole process was.” The Ottawa demonstration plant…”
The environmentalists are the ones who have it right, and the Vancouver politicians and bureaucrats know it. Vancouver bureaucrats and politicians like to describe their WTE proposal as part of a ‘Zero Waste’ solution. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to pay for itself their incinerators(s) will require millions of tonnes of garbage for decades.
If Vancouver were to achieve a ‘Zero Waste’ solution their precious incinerators would starve and their plan would fall apart. The environmentalists have figured out that, if we are to move towards a ‘Zero Waste’ solution, intermediary measures such as WTE will only prolong the reliance on measures which continue to pollute.
But fooling the public through political patsies like Ross and Banman will not bolster their case. They should come clean about the financial interests which benefit from trucking garbage to and through Abbotsford thereby polluting the airshed, and being open and realistic about the fact that, if WTE is defeated, it will simply mean that a different group of polluters will benefit.There is no bigger danger to the Fraser Valley ‘airshed’ than the semi-trailers trucking garbage into Abbotsford and through the Valley to landfills in Washington State and the interior of BC. Whether Patricia Ross can understand or admit that or not should be of no consequence to real environmentalists.
If you intend to fight the City of Vancouver on its management of waste fight it on honest grounds which don’t require you to come up with bogus arguments like the critical value of the Fraser valley airshed. Surely the problems inherent in the technology and the track record of communities which have invested in it are far stronger arguments than the red herring of a non-existent threat to the fictitious Fraser Valley airshed.
If Patricia and John win their argument we will be supporting a company which will simply add to the diesel fumes and smoke deposited into our precious Fraser Valley airshed.
If we really believe that the well-paid former cabinet ministers and lobbyists some think are fighting on the side of the environment will continue to do so after they’ve managed to convince the BC government to continue trucking Vancouver’s garbage into and through Abbotsford … have I got a bridge for you.
For a look at the research by both parties in the battle of Vancouver’s Waste-to-Energy plans see the following:
Research, Sources and Background:
We did what we could to provide as many useful links for those who want to look into the matter further.
High stakes in the garbage business – Vancouver Sun, Oct 12, 2013
Critique of Waste To Energy Proposals:Incinerators – Waste-to-Energy Proposals in the Watershed Sentinel by Joyce Nelson.
Fraser Valley Regional District Research:
– Consolidated FV Management Plan 1998 PDF
– Best Management Practices and emission inventory of agricultural sources in the Lower Fraser Valley
– State of the air Reports
– Dr Ian Mckendry Report-Air Quality in the Fraser Valley
– Particulate Emissions and Health – Prf C. Vyvyan Howarrd