Niagara at Large
July 7, 2014
John Bacher

Ontario, Along With Recent U.S. Actons, Help Set Stage For More Global Cuts In Coal Emissions

The recent decision by the U.S. Obama Administration to use existing clean air legislation in that country to order a 30-per-cent reduction in heat-trapping carbon emissions by 2030, represents a blessed contagion of Ontario’s own shut down of coal phasing plants in this province.

Protected against court challenges, the US government’s action shows the wisdom of tactics to reduce emissions recommended by the network of environmentalists that banded together in recent years to form the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

Obama’s action finally gives the United States the salutatory quality of being a green super power. While those who advocated Ontario’s coal phase out were quite aware of our province’s relative small contribution to overall carbon emissions that are fomenting catastrophic climate change, they had faith that its good example would spread.. Now, in 2014, the year that the final shutdown of coal-fired power plants in Ontario was actually accomplished, it has.

The green genius behind the Ontario’s coal phase out is a mild mannered, always suit attired economist by the name of Jack Gibbons.

Gibbons, who’s favourite past times are cycling and reading, is a real life, environmental super-hero. Like cartoon mythologies of Superman, he is a carbon cutter with a mission to rescue the planet from destruction.

Gibbons resolved to fight for the closing of coal plants in Ontario when air tests over the past two decades showed that one of them, Nanticoke along Lake Erie and upwind from south Niagara and Buffalo, New York, was the largest single source of air pollution in Canada. Then these plants accounted for a quarter of Ontario’s electricity and twenty per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, figures showed the province was spending $600 million annually to treat in hospitals the victims of air pollution. 

Gibbons understood that life style changes, most controversially reducing personal use of automobiles, is a tough sell to combat climate change. Many motorists, he concluded, would rather deny the reality, despite a higher frequency and severity of climate chaos, including floods, hurricanes, drought and famine than change their ways.

Officially, Obama’s strategy is not a coal phase out. The strategies are left up to individual states, who are not forced to immediately shut down aging coal-fired plants. States can choose such varied compliance strategies as ramping up generation of energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar (carried out in Ontario despite the objectives from the political late leader, Tim Hudak) and entering regional cap-and-trade-agreements. States that refuse to comply however, will have to follow plans mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Despite the wriggle room, the direction towards the imitation of an Ontario-style coal phase out is inescapable. It is revealing that one the same day (June 2nd, 2104) that the GDF Suez corporation announced the closing of the Massachusetts, Mount Tom coal burning electrical plan, the EPA’s strategy to cut carbon was unveiled.

The Massachusetts plan seems to be the template for EPA strategies for the United States. Massachusett’s last coal burning monster -Brayton Point – is now scheduled for a shut down in 2017. This means Massachusetts will follow Ontario’s lead in three years. This is to be done through energy efficiency, conservation, new transmission lines, renewables and a lower-impact energy grid.

Coal burning will soon be banned in Boston. May its sensible pattern, copying that of our own Province of Ontario, quickly spread throughout the world, as the vivid power of a good example becomes too compelling to ignore.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’.