Canadian cities petition U.S. to curb air pollution

Thirteen municipalities in Canada plan to file a petition in the U.S. on Wednesday that calls for reduced emissions from 150 coal-fired plants in seven U.S. Midwestern states.

Thirteen Canadian municipalitiesplan to file a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency onWednesday that calls for reduced emissions from 150 coal-fired plants in seven U.S. Midwestern states.

Albert Koehl, a lawyer for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in Toronto, said the 150 coal-fired plants are polluters on a massive scale and are among the oldest and dirtiest in the United States.

The defence fund will file the petition on behalf of municipalities representing more than five million people in Central and Eastern Canada, includingToronto, Halifax, Windsor, Cornwall, Peel Region, Durham Region and Essex County in Ontario and Laval, Gatineau andChâteauguay in Quebec.

"It shows there's a groundswell of support among communities and their leaders to take matters into their own hands when it comes to protecting their own air, either from pollutants coming from abroad or even domestically," Koehl said.

UnderU.S. law, the EPA is supposed to force power plants to lower their emissions ifevidence existsthat the emissions are harming the health of Canadians. The petition refers to evidence from international reports that document the flow of air pollution from the United Statesinto Canada.

May have limited success under Bush administration

However, Koehl warned that under the administration of President George W. Bush, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actually beentrying to loosen air pollution laws rather thanenforce them.

The petition may have alimited chance of success, he said.

He said it was nonetheless important for Canadian municipalities to join a fight by U.S. cities, states and environmental groups.There is already a slate of lawsuits by U.S. states calling for a reduction in emissions.

If the EPA fails to act, the Canadian municipalities have the right to sue the agency in U.S. courts.

Pollution from plants dwarfs Canadian totals

Accordingto a news release from the defence fund,the 150U.S. plants emit about 4.5 million tonnes of sulphur dioxideand 1.6 million tonnes ofnitrogen oxides annually — double the amount produced by all of Canada's major industries combined.

These contaminants produce smog and acid rain.

"Windsor is in the eye of this toxic storm. Windsor gets about 90 per cent of its pollutants that cause smog from the U.S.," Koehl said.

The 150 plants emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases asdoes all of Canada, including its transportation, industry and oil sands industries, the news release said.

Originally filedin 2005on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, the amended petition includes new information on smog, acid rain and climate change.

U.S. pollution blamed for thousands of Ontario deaths

According to the Ontario government, about half of the 5,000 premature deaths caused by smog in the province every year can be attributed to air pollution that crosses the Canada-U.S. border.

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical health officer, said the city has a serious air pollution problem, a large part of which is blowing in from acrossthe U.S. border.

"About half of our airborne pollution comes from across the border in the United States. That pollution is coming from dirty coal-fired plants in the Ohio valley and in the Midwest," he said.

McKeown said he agrees that the petition will face an uphill battle. "In the U.S., efforts to weaken laws and regulations will make things worse for Ontario and people in Toronto," he said.

The Ontario government has joined one of the lawsuits launched by a U.S. state, but McKeown said the move is questionable, given its recent decision to withdraw its promise to close coal-fired plants in the province by 2009.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia also affected

Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly said the air pollution is also causing problems in the Maritimes.

"As I understand it, over 50 per cent of air pollutants over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are from the U.S. For us, we're trying to deal with what's coming our way, but also what we generate here as well."

The seven states in which the plants are located are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.