Parker Gallant: Ontario’s environmental commissioner, serving the public or simply sucking up?

(October 14, 2013) On October 10, 2013, Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller released his 194-page annual report titled, “Serving the Public,” and backed it up with a “supplement” that ran to 247 pages. His press conference at 10 a.m. on that day attracted little attention resulting in only minor media coverage.

I’m sure commissioner Miller was disappointed at the lack of media attention but perhaps he picked the wrong week and the wrong messages. In the end he had little to say with the exception that Major changes in last year’s budget give the government the power to hand over Crown land – which makes up 87 per cent of the province – and natural resources to private companies, he said.”  

Commissioner Miller also went on at considerable length about the “ring of fire” which has been stuck in neutral since its discovery, due principally, to the inability of the Liberal government to deal with either First Nations or environmental issues. The tens of thousands of jobs it was anticipated to create have not materialized and a good part of that latter problem may be due to the increasing costs of electricity. The private sector are concerned with the ambiguity surrounding the issues, such as chatter by the Provincial Liberals of ensuring the “refining process” be done in Ontario! The lack of a reasonably priced supply of electricity necessary in refining the ore is a major concern.

Now if one delves directly into the commissioner’s report going first to the “index” to find which subjects are covered the very first thing that strikes you is #1 on the list:

PART 1 | The Environmental Bill of Rights

    1. The Tookit of the EBR

While the “Tookit” reference is an obvious typo it sums up what the week had demonstrated as the ratepayers and taxpayers of the province learned about the $1.1 billion cost of the Oakville gas plant move which “took it” (hard-earned dollars) from their wallets.

Putting the “Tookit” reference aside, a scan of the commissioner’s report discloses some interesting issues which are upsetting. One that stuck out as odd in the report was the reference to the removal of a bald eagle’s nest in Halimand County. That removal drew considerably more media attention when it occurred than the commissioner did with this or prior reports. The Ministry of Natural Resources blessed the removal of the bald eagle nest despite the fact that the bald eagle is considered a “species at risk” in the province, with only 57 known nests in southern Ontario as noted by Bird Studies Canada in a report dated March 2012. Here is what the commissioner’s report had to say about that removal:

An example of a good use of an information notice is MNR’s provision of information regarding the issuance of a non-prescribed permit under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 that allowed a company to remove a bald eagle’s nest due to the construction of wind turbines in the area (Environmental Registry #011-7916). This was a controversial decision and MNR should be commended for using an information notice to explain – and provide advance notice of – the decision. The ministry could have stayed silent on the issue, but was clearly aware it would be a matter of public interest and posted an information notice despite the backlash the ministry received – and likely anticipated.

What is truly ironic about this commendation by commissioner Miller is that he didn’t condemn it and that MNR’s posting about this particular “species at risk” asks the public to:

  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find a Bald Eagle nesting on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.

One presumes in these circumstances that it wasn’t illegal (MNR had granted the rights to NextEra to remove the nest) and NextEra were not interested in the “stewardship program”. They, perhaps, had their sights set on the money to be earned by erecting giant wind turbines under lucrative contracts awarded by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA).

Delving into the “supplement” to the commissioner’s annual report is very enlightening as  Gord Miller, the commissioner, seems intent on venturing into areas where he is out of his depth. As an example, he opines on infra-sound after outlining the following on page 188 of the supplement:

In December 2012, two applicants requested that the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) review the need for new regulations to govern the levels of low frequency noise and infrasound emitted by industrial wind turbines. The applicants asserted that low frequency noise and infrasound from wind turbines have caused health problems in residents living nearby, and that O. Reg. 359/09 under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), which regulates the placement of turbines, is inadequate at addressing these issues as it is based only on audible noise.”

Visiting pages 192 and193 discloses that commissioner Miller is not about to bite the hand that feeds him his “sunshine list” salary. The comments from the commissioner fully support the denial by the MOE:

The ECO agrees with MOE’s decision to deny the applicants’ request, since conducting a review would duplicate previous and ongoing studies on this topic.” And then goes on to state:

 “The Ontario government has already conducted and commissioned reports on the human health impacts of wind turbine noise (including low frequency sound and infrasound), and these reports have concluded that there is no direct link.” And the one that stands out in the “supplement” notes, (presumably with the commissioner’s blessing) says:

“Further, there is no scientific evidence to date that vibration from low frequency wind turbine noise causes adverse health effects. Commissioner Miller’s bio indicates he received an “Honorable Bachelor of Science degree in Biology” and a “Master of Science degree in Plant ecology” so one must wonder why he would issue such a firm opinion when his education clearly doesn’t reflect his ability to opine on either infrasound or the effects on our health! Perhaps he is simply “sucking up” to his boss?

Not content to simply rest on the foregoing statement, the response goes on to draw further conclusions which are an insult to the individuals who have suffered from infrasound, not only in Ontario but around the world. Here is what is stated:

These conclusions do not bar the possibility that low frequency noise and infrasound might annoy and cause stress-related symptoms in some people living near wind turbines.” And went on further:

MOE is refraining from conducting a redundant and costly review of its own.” and “because there is currently no protocol for measuring indoor infrasound and low frequency sounds.

Basically, commissioner Miller is saying they are not going to get involved in any study that might prove the complaints have validity yet their report clearly opined on unproven facts by stating, “there is no scientific evidence to date that vibration from low frequency wind turbine noise causes adverse health effects.” Which, had he actually researched the subject, would have shown him that his conclusion is flawed.

Another interesting finding in the supplement, found on page 170, relates to yet another review denied by the MOE and the ENG, and is described as follows:

In May 2012, two applicants requested that the Ministry of Energy (ENG) and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE): halt the development of power plants or cogeneration facilities that use fossil fuels; close all gas and cogeneration plants in Ontario; and “remove the 10,700 megawatt [MW] cap on non-hydro renewables and the 9,000 MW cap on hydro.

The reply from ENG was telling in that they responded with: “these numbers are not caps but targets, and the LTEP provides room for Ontario to go beyond them. The ministry informed the applicants that Ontario is on track to meet its 10,700 MW target for non-hydro renewable energy generation by 2015, and at the end of 2013, the government will review Ontario’s electricity supply and demand forecast to explore whether a higher renewable energy target is warranted.

The commissioner once again beats up on ENG (despite their foregoing response) by stating: “the ECO believes it was perfectly reasonable for the applicants to ask ENG to consider and respond to their unaddressed argument that Ontario’s electricity requirements can be adequately met through wind, water and solar generation without the need for fossil fuel generation.” But states that, “the MOE’s decision to deny the request for review was reasonable” which makes it pretty obvious that either commissioner Miller is redundant as a critic of the “environmental” issues confronting the province or is perhaps concerned that his time as commissioner may be past its “best before date”.

After surfing  through the 400 plus pages that comprised the report and supplement, it is obvious that commissioner Miller is clearly in the same camp as the environmental non-government organizations (ENGO) and has no concerns about what renewable energy is doing to rural Ontario. He has no concerns about health problems; the reduction of property values; the killing, harming and harassment of nature, and the pain high electricity prices are causing people living on fixed incomes.

Perhaps the time is ripe for commissioner Miller to retire and move to the Chatham Kent region where he can be surrounded by renewable energy. There are several properties (many abandoned) available that he can acquire; for a song, or at least a rendition of the “Renewed Energy Song” and a lot less dollars than he would have had to pay just a few short years ago for the same property before industrial wind turbines sprung up throughout the region.

Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive and a former director of Energy Probe Research Foundation. As with all independent bloggers on this site, Parker’s views do not necessarily reflect those of Energy Probe.

This entry was posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Costs, Benefits and Risks, Electricity, Natural Gas, Natural Gas Utility Regulation and Commodity Deregulation, Nuclear Power, Power Generation in Ontario, Privatization, Renewables and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Parker Gallant: Ontario’s environmental commissioner, serving the public or simply sucking up?

  1. Pingback: Is our Ontario “Environmental Commissioner” actually the “Environmental Commissar”? | The Big Green Lie

  2. WillR says:

    Bob Rae recently gave an interview on one of the business channels.

    He was discussing the negotiation process with the Ontario government and his role of representing the First Nations People,

    Has he not done enough to Ontario? It’s time for Bob Rae to go off into the sunset while the province still functions — however debilitated it may be.

  3. These are really impressive ideas in regarding blogging.

    You have touched some good things here. Any way keep up wrinting.

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