Garbage is big business. Really big. It can also be a messy business, particularly when politicians get involved.
So no big surprise then that the left hand doesn’t seem to care what the right hand is doing at Metro Vancouver when it comes to regional waste management.
On the one hand, Lower Mainland municipalities have policies in place to divert up to 80 per cent of waste by reducing, reusing and recycling and on the other hand, Metro Vancouver has just short-listed 10 proposals to increase its incineration capacity by 370,000 tonnes per year through a new $500-million-plus waste-to-energy incinerator.
And make no mistake, a second incinerator is being fast-tracked by Metro Vancouver officials.
The regional authority wants to have a site selected by 2015 and the fuse lit by 2018.
Already the dichotomy between Metro Vancouver’s two approaches—recycling versus burn baby burn—is raising fears that the region could be put in the bizarre position of having to import waste to feed a second incinerator.
Which may explain why Metro Vancouver is considering a bylaw this week that some might call a thinly veiled attempt to corner the market on garbage by regulating where waste management firms can dump.
In its rush to incinerate, Metro Vancouver is also running roughshod over conditions set down by the provincial government.
First, there’s that pesky little matter about being a good neighbour.
One of the conditions was that before an incinerator could proceed “at a minimum Metro Vancouver must establish a working group with the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) on the potential impact to the (common) airshed.”
Regardless of how ever well-intentioned they were meant to be, the recent dog-and-pony shows put on by Metro Vancouver officials in the Fraser Valley do not substitute for consultation or the establishment of a working group.
Then there are questions over the economic viability of a $500 million incinerator.
The government’s conditions include the requirement that “communities must target 70 per cent waste diversion through reducing, reusing and recycling before they consider waste-to-energy as an alternative to landfilling.”
A condition that raises an obvious question: if the target is met will there be enough garbage left over to feed two incinerators?
But the most critical condition that the B.C. government set down was in 2012 when new regulations were adopted that require all proposed waste-to-energy facilities to go through an environmental assessment.
And in case that point was missed on anyone, it was reiterated this past February when then-environment minister Terry Lake informed the legislature that the government had been “very clear that if an in-region, waste-to-energy facility is considered by Metro Vancouver, it will undergo a full B.C. environmental assessment process and full consultation with the Fraser Valley Regional District.”
Lighting the fuse by 2018 is beginning to look a lot like wishful thinking.
Ironically, it was only 10 years ago that Metro Vancouver (then the Greater Vancouver Regional District) opposed plans for a gas-fired power plant in Washington state due to “its proximity to a major residential area, the City of Abbotsford” and “the adverse health impacts of plant emissions on local residents.”
But that was then and this is now.
This time Metro Vancouver seems intent on marching to the beat of its own drummer paying only lip service to its neighbours and—if it can get away with it—the province.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca
© Copyright 2013