$7.7B clean-up bill for contaminated federal sites

Federally owned contaminated sites will cost the government billions of dollars to clean up, according to the 2012 report of Canada's environment commissioner.

Scott Vaughan says the government has made significant progress, closing the file on 9,000 out of 22,000 sites across the country, but the remaining sites present some major headaches.

"The government has reported its combined environmental liabilities at $7.7 billion," writes Vaughan. "Many of these sites are buried and out of the public eye, but they will impose human health risks and environmental and financial burdens for generations to come."

The report’s two other chapters dealt with Canada’s approach to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Targets beyond reach

The chapter about the government’s new 2020 GHG target found the easier-to-meet, Kyoto Protocol replacement goals were still far out of reach.

“Environment Canada’s own forecast shows that in 2020, Canada’s emissions will be seven per cent above the 2005 level, not 17 percent below it,” Vaughan pointed out.

The big problem appears to be the government’s sector-by-sector approach. Each set of regulations takes up to five years to develop.

So far, only three sets of regulations have been written. There are two for the transportation sector, which are in place, and one for electricity, which doesn’t come into effect until 2015.

There are no regulations yet for the oil and gas sector, which is the fastest-growing GHG emitter, accounting for one-fifth of Canada’s total emissions. The auditor notes that regulations for this sector are expected to be made public by December.

All this is compounded by the lack of an overall implementation plan to show how the government’s multiple regulations will lead to the end goal of GHGs falling 17 percent below 2005 levels.

Vaughan also noted Ottawa hasn’t costed its plan.

“The government said it was withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol because remaining in it would be too costly to the Canadian economy. We therefore expected the government would have estimated how much it will cost to meet its target and identified the least-costly options,” the report said.

Environment Minister Peter Kent accepted the Commissioner's recommendations but put a more positive spin on his government's progress in aiming for its 2020 targets.

"Our government is working with its provincial, territorial and other partners to take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are making significant progress on reducing Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions," Kent said in a press release.

The opposition focused its attention on the government's uncosted 2020 plan, expressing fears about the absence of dollar figures.

"We seem to be uncovering a pattern with this government. It always seems to be two sets of numbers. Are they hiding these numbers? Are they incompetent? Was this a typographical error? How can we know for sure?" asked the NDP's environment critic Megan Leslie.

The other chapter about the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act found Canada will not meet the targets set in the 1997 agreement.

Kent announced Canada would pull out of Kyoto last year.

External Links

Read the Environment Commissioner's report
International Institute for Sustainable Development