Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Fair Comment

Words Matter by Christine Anderson

A member of Friends of the Pontiac asks questions about the proposal
to locate an Energy-from-Waste incinerator in the Pontiac.

In June 2023, a public presentation was given by Pontiac warden Jane Toller on behalf of the MRC Council of Mayors to propose an Energy-From-Waste (EFW) garbage incinerator for the Pontiac. I did not attend that day but have been reviewing a copy of their presentation. Each of the bullet points below is taken directly from this presentation.

  • The MRC Pontiac has refused 2 proposals for landfill sites (Bristol and Danford Lake)
  • MRC Council of Mayors are opposed to landfill as a solution and prefer Energy-from-waste

So, the begging question here is why? After interviewing people who were very much involved in opposing the landfill proposals of the past in the Pontiac, I got to the bottom of the real story that goes something like this: Citizens of both Bristol and Danford Lake rose up in opposition mainly because the proposed landfills were going to be built as “mega” regional landfills that could be accepting waste from as far away as Toronto (GTA). Also, there were many environmental issues found to make these proposals unsuitable such as sandy soils, high water tables, proximity to the Ottawa River and residential dwellings. The points made here make it seem like the mayors are on board with the people and thus prefer a “mega” incinerator instead of a “mega” landfill. Maybe the truth is that both options are “mega” and that is the real problem. These statements are examples of the binary argument. This compels people to take a stand on one of only two options presented and then look like they are in opposition of the other. Example here: “If you don’t want landfills then you must want an incinerator”. This is a bit of word “trickery” that is specifically used to exclude any other possible options, investigation, or questions. Binary statements almost always never represent real life scenarios.

  • The MRC Pontiac has identified a site (heavy industrial waste) in Litchfield at the old Smurfit Stone site

Considering there is a septic sewage waste treatment plant and a toxic construction waste dump currently at this site, should we be thinking it’s ok to just toss a mega incinerator into the mix? Given its proximity to the Ottawa river, is this location a good candidate for any future industrial projects? Do we really hate the Ottawa river that much? Just because a location is zoned heavy industrial, does that mean we should take an environmental disaster and add to its demise?

  • Today, energy from waste is approved by the Ministry of the Environment and the BAPE recommends and approves incineration

After doing some research, I found that the Ministry lists incineration as it’s last acceptable option for waste management. Given that there are EFW’s in Montreal and Quebec City, one could conclude that they are there with the ministry’s approval and that is true but only because potentially no other options were available.
Energy from waste is a term used very generally in all kinds of applications from organic composting projects to huge industrial applications. Just because BAPE is said to support this kind of practice from incineration are we sure that this proposal for the Pontiac is just what they are actually supporting? This an example of using very generalized and simplistic statements to present an argument.

  • Ottawa (population 1,000,000 plus) needs a politically-acceptable waste management solution

Does this mean that the Pontiac incinerator offer to take all of Ottawa’s garbage is actually a “politically acceptable” waste management solution? What exactly does “politically acceptable” mean? That the politicians like it? What about environmentally, or economically, or locally acceptable? If Ottawa agrees that this offer is politically acceptable, does that mean it’s accepted?

  • COVID has led to a 10% increase in garbage. As populations increase waste will also increase

Ah yes, don’t forget to use COVID as an excuse to install an incinerator. The forecast on waste increasing with population could be one outcome if we stop being smart about our waste management practices but I have faith in our citizens to participate in composting, reducing, re-using and recycling. Statements used here are generalized which don’t allow for any consideration of different outcomes other than the support of incineration.

  • The idea: to build a 400,000 tonne EFW facility in Pontiac to receive waste from the National Capital region to cross at one access point, the Cheneaux Dam

Ah ha ha! The Cheneaux Dam? Most of you know why I laugh at this one. Maybe this seems like a joke but keep in mind that so much of this proposal hinges on such preposterous statements as this. Imagine a thirty-five foot tractor trailer loaded with garbage navigating the narrow lanes and curves of the bridges 24/7 at the rate of 35 plus trucks per day. I have personally had to hold back and allow a large truck to pass me on those bridges . . . it’s not a fun time.

  • To ensure economic viability and maximize environmental impact (climate change) we need 400,000 tons of waste
  • Pontiac borders Ontario, enabling a Quebec-Ontario partnership in economic development energy production and the fight against climate change

Let’s use the most trending catch phrase in the world today to convince the people that a 400,000tonne mega garbage incinerator is here to fight climate change. A 2021-22 study from Europe shows dioxins far exceeding acceptable limits found in chicken eggs of farms surrounding incinerators. “If these eggs were intended for the commercial market they should have been withdrawn.” Same results for pine needles, vegetation and mosses. So, there you go Pontiac farmers, how’s about a bit of dioxins sprinkled over your chickens and gardens? Would this be considered ok as long as it’s fighting climate change?
There are many more statements made in this presentation that I could continue to write a book on but for the sake of brevity I will stop here. I want to sum it up like this; Words matter! This EFW proposal seems to say all the right stuff but, really, it’s an example of the word trickery epidemic found in our culture today. We need to be able to read between the lines, recognize generalizations, require evidence, ask questions, and understand the binary argument when you start to get that feeling of being backed into a corner.

Christine Anderson is a resident of Thorne and a member of Friends of the Pontiac, a citizens’ advocacy group opposed to the proposal to locate a garbage incinerator in the Pontiac.

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