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July 9,2009 Tri City News

Published: July 09, 2009 2:00 PM
Updated: July 09, 2009 3:24 PM

To Patricia Ross, Metro Vancouver's strategy to build waste-fired energy plants is diametrically opposed to its past positions in defence of Lower Mainland air quality.

Ross, who chairs the Fraser Valley Regional District board, is particularly incensed because Metro and Fraser Valley politicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the 1990s to block the construction of the contentious Sumas 2 energy plant (SE2) just across the border in Washington state, which would have burned natural gas and pumped pollutants into the constrained airshed.

"They opposed it  I've got their letters," Ross says of Metro's anti-Sumas stand.

"Now Metro Vancouver's proposing the very same thing."

Metro continues to advance its plans to build at least three waste incinerators to replace its nearly full Cache Creek landfill.

"If SE2 wasn't okay, what makes this okay?" Ross asked, adding she believes the waste-to-energy plants may pollute as much or more than Sumas 2 would have.

"It's disappointing. We haven't changed our strategy. But it sounds like they have."

A Metro-commissioned report released in June found building trash incinerators would have a negligible impact on regional air quality and projected total emissions due to waste handling would be at or below today's levels in 2020.

Ross doesn't accept some of the study's methodology and assumptions.

In particular, she takes issue with Metro assurances that energy captured from burning garbage can offset the need of industrial plants or other local buildings to burn natural gas or other fossil fuels in the region.

That's already done at Metro's Burnaby Waste-to-Energy facility, which pumps steam into the adjacent paper mill, saving thousands of barrels of oil over the years.

But waste shouldn't be burned as fuel within the region, period, Ross contends.

And she says if other existing industries already burn other heavily polluting fuels, Metro should instead press them to clean up their act.

"What about wind? Solar? Run of river? Geothermal? Or increased energy conservation?" Ross asked. "There are other kinds of energy sources that are not polluting."

She also fears not enough is known yet about the release of dangerous contaminants like dioxins and nanoparticles from incinerating waste.

"Nanoparticles are are so fine they are absorbed into the bloodstream and the brain," Ross said.

"Is garbage really the preferred fuel source for one of the most sensitive airsheds in the world?" she asked.

Metro Vancouver staff are now assembling a strategy to move forward with some combination of waste-to-energy, landfilling or a third process called mechanical-biological treatment.

They're supposed to have recommendations back before Metro's board by Sept. 9.

Ross argues they're also failing to consider other alternatives, like what's called a resource park where a much more intensive array of sorting, recovery, recycling and composting is done.

A British toxicology expert told Metro mayors and councillors June 27 there's no evidence waste-to-energy plants with modern emission controls pose any health risk to the public.

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