The city of Kamloops will unveil a draft of a new air-shed management plan this month — standards expected to exceed a new national plan.
Jen Fretz, the City’s environmental services supervisor, said Friday the draft plan will go to a council workshop Oct. 23.
“Our motto is, ‘Keep clean air clean and improve where possible,’” Fretz said, noting the city has limited powers to control emissions. An example is the proposed Ajax mine, where the city has no regulatory power.
“We know we have really good air quality. We know we have bad days at times but those are beyond our control.”
Days of poor air quality here are caused by wildfires, whether burning here or thousands of kilometres away.
The draft plan comes the same month as an agreement between Canada’s environment ministers to set new standards to reduce smog, including nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said B.C.’s standards are already lower for the substances emitted from industrial sources as well as automobiles.
The agreement also sets baseline limits on industrial users. While some industries have yet to be regulated, Lake said cement and pulp companies have signed on. Those two — Domtar pulp and Lafarge cement in Kamloops — are the largest single-point pollution emitters in this air shed.
Domtar has spent millions to reduce its emissions, which are well below provincial standards.
Lake said the national standards will be particularly important to industrial Ontario and should lead to international agreements with the United States.
The new agreement updates air quality standards for the first time in 20 years, starting with sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds, two of the main contributors to smog.
But agreements with some industrial sectors to set limits on their emissions are still ongoing.
“We’re really still in the early stages,” said federal Environment Minister Peter Kent. “There’s still negotiation to be done in terms of industrial emissions standards.”
Kent couldn’t say how much air quality in Canada would improve under the new non-enforceable guidelines.
“The obvious outcome is to find performance standards which enable us to achieve reductions, to having cleaner, safer, less toxic air,” he said. “This is still a work in progress.”.
Industries such as forestry and mining have already agreed on their levels. The energy industry, including the oilsands, is among the sectors still under negotiation.
Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen said there’s no timeline to complete those talks, but that they are proceeding in a “timely” fashion.
“There’s more work we need to do with certain sectors,” she said.
While the agreement is national in scope, it will be implemented by the provinces, who will be able to interpret it differently to suit their circumstances.
“The touchstone word in the agreement that we’ve achieved here this week is flexibility, in recognizing the balance between environmental remediation and correction as well as making sure that we keep an eye on not discouraging investment,” Kent said.
McQueen said the agreement allows provinces to decide for themselves what they will do, as long as the air quality standards are met.
She said it’s not necessary to enshrine the standards in regulations, since industry is agreeing to them.
“We already have buy-in from stakeholders,” she said. “I don’t see a need for regulations.”
But John Bennett of the Sierra Club says that means when companies exceed their emissions limits, they won’t face consequences.
“Each exceedance is subject to further negotiation,” he said.
He added that the agreement is likely to lead to a patchwork of different environmental standards across the country, which could even affect where industries decide to locate.
The announcement comes after a two-day meeting of ministers in Alberta. Negotiators have been working for five years on the smog deal, in conjunction with industry and non-governmental groups.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in 2007 that smog would be cut in half by 2015.
Kent couldn’t say if Thursday’s agreement would achieve that goal. Environmental groups have said the deal doesn’t go that far, but will eventually result in real improvement.