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Top Tory's grill criticism ridiculed

Lay off the grill, top Tory advises - His comments are called 'ridiculous'

Toronto Star - June 25, 2003
by Richard Brennan

Ontario's environment minister appeared more concerned about pollution from barbecues yesterday than he did about the province's coal-fired power stations. Jim Wilson said Ontario residents should eschew the temptation to throw a steak on the grill on smoggy days when the air is tough to breathe.

"Clearly anything they (the public) can do to cut down their use of equipment or barbecues that produce smog" would help, he told reporters on his way into the weekly government caucus meeting. Coal-fired generating stations are only a "small part" of the pollution problem, Wilson said.

But the environment minister was raked over the coals for his comments, which came as the province grappled with a second day of smog advisories and sweltering temperatures.

Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said Wilson's comments were "just ridiculous."

"Ontario Power Generation's coal-fired power plants produce as much pollution as 6 million cars a year, so they are much, much more significant than your backyard barbecue," said Gibbons adding the impact of barbecuing is "so trivial that no one has ever quantified it."

The coal-fired Nanticoke plant on the north shore of Lake Erie is the biggest in North America and is reported to be the largest single polluter in Canada. And as temperatures soar, the province's five coal-fired plants are working overtime.

Grill guru Ted Reader, host of CTV's weekly barbecue show King of The Q, said while barbecuing may contribute to heat elevation, it is "a little ridiculous" that this is the focus of attempts to combat smog. "If people don't grill, they go indoors to cook, and increase their use of the air conditioning system," he said.

But Reader, the author of six cookbooks and a chef for more than 20 years, said food should not suffer when it comes to cutting down on activities that might produce smog. He cautioned meat lovers to use their grills efficiently. "If you grill, wait for later in the evening," he said. "If you properly prepare your steak, you can cook it in 10 minutes."

Tory MPP Bill Murdoch (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound), who has a beef ranch near Owen Sound, said he disagreed entirely with Wilson and encouraged people to barbecue even more beef.

"I wouldn't encourage people to stop barbecuing. I would encourage people to do more. We have a glut of beef right now and it would be nice if people would buy our beef, which is safe, and do that," Murdoch said.

Meanwhile, Premier Ernie Eves said he is doing his bit to reduce smog by not using his barbecue. "I happened to order in Swiss Chalet last night instead of barbecuing," he said.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said he was stunned that Wilson would continue to insist that the coal-fired plants are not the problem. "What really bothers me is that he juxtaposes backyard barbecues with coal-fired generation. Coal-fired generation is the single greatest contributor to smog and global warming in the country," McGuinty told reporters.

The Tories have committed to closing down coal-fired generating stations by 2015, while the Liberals have said they would do it eight years earlier.

Nanticoke emits more than 30 toxic air pollutants. While the scrubbers on two of eight boilers at Nanticoke's generating stations are almost completed, they will only reduce one pollutant, nitrogen oxide. "The selective catalytic reduction units will only reduce Nanticoke's total air pollution by 4/100 of 1 per cent," Gibbons said.

Like other environment ministers before him, Wilson blamed coal-fired plants in the American Midwest for polluting southern Ontario. "There are over 200 coal-fired plants versus our five coal-fired plants in the Ontario-U.S. air shed," he said.

The Conservative government has been criticized for not having a conservation plan, but Energy Minister John Baird, announced yesterday that a booklet containing tips on how to conserve energy will be mailed to homes shortly.

NDP MPP Marilyn Churley said that should have been done months ago. "The people of Ontario are choking and dying from the effects of smog," Churley said. "Yet the best this government can suggest is to stop barbecuing. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious."

Last summer was the worst on record for smog in Ontario with the environment ministry issuing 27 smog alerts, according to the Ontario Clear Air Alliance.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, Hamilton and Oakville experienced the province's worst smog levels, each with an air quality index reading of 72. Readings above 50 are considered poor.

Other areas severely affected were Toronto at 67 and Simcoe, not far from the coal-powered Nanticoke power plant, at 68.

Air quality index readings are based on hourly measurements of the six most common air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, total reduced sulphur compounds, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance reported yesterday that OPG failed to meet targets for reducing both smog emissions and greenhouse gas emissions in 2002.

The company, owned by the Ontario government, says it meets its targets by buying emission credits from other companies that have exceeded their pollution reduction goals.

The clean air alliance says OPG promised in 1991 to limit emissions of smog-creating nitrogen oxides to 38,000 tonnes a year. But in 2002, its coal-fired plants breathed 42,300 tonnes, the alliance says.

With files from John Spears, Robert Benzie, Hicham Safieddine and Canadian Press.

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