Monday, 20 April 2009

Statement by Concerned Citizens of the Valley

Concerned Citizens of the Valley is a group of people who live in the Swan River Valley of west-central Manitoba, CA.

In the mid-1990’s, Louisiana Pacific proposed to build an Oriented Strandboard mill near Minitonas in west-central Manitoba. Clean Environment Commission hearings on the environmental impact of the OSB mill were held in 1994.
The wood products plant in question. (photo by Larry.)
At the time of the hearings, the US Environmental Protection Agency had reached an agreement with Louisiana-Pacific to install Regenerative Thermal Oxidizers in it’s US mills. These RTOs limit the emission of toxic compounds like formaldehyde, benzene and Volatile Organic Compounds, toxins known to be hazardous to human health.

In Manitoba, requirements were far less rigorous and Louisiana-Pacific did not propose to install RTOs, nor was the government suggesting that the Company do so. It was the view of some that Manitoba citizens should be afforded at least the same level of health and environmental protection as citizens of the US. Environmental groups and citizens from the Swan Valley came together to work towards that goal.

The Clean Environment Commission hearings lasted several weeks and included testimony from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Louisiana-Pacific relented and agreed to install RTOs at the Swan Valley mill. This was a significant environmental victory for those very dedicated people who worked and volunteered on behalf of their fellow man and the environment.

Fast forward to the present.

Louisiana-Pacific is losing money due to lower demand for its product. The Company wants to cut costs. It issues statements indicating that it will cut jobs and will be examining other means to reduce costs.

The Company pleads its case to the Manitoba government in 2008. The Company indicates that it costs $3 million per year to operate the RTOs. And that the RTOs have a life expectancy of about ten years, their time is up, and it will cost $10 million to replace them. The Company also indicates that it has made some changes to its operation that would reduce emissions. The mill may close if costs are not reduced, and people will be out of work.

What happens? On January 8 of this year, Manitoba Conservation quietly grants approval for the Company to stop using the RTOs on an interim basis. Near the end of January, in an article in the local Swan Valley paper, the mill manager is quoted to say “We have been working with ministers Rosann Wowchuk and Stan Struthers and Andrew Swan on this and other cost saving initiatives. We are very pleased that they are supporting us.”.

Despite the huge investment of volunteer capital to ensure that the mill was required to install RTOs, the interim approval is granted because the government views the alteration to be ‘minor’. There was no notification of what Manitoba Conservation had done. And people, including those living next to the mill, were left in the dark. At least for awhile.

Near the end of January, Manitoba Conservation advertises in the Winnipeg Free Press and the local Swan Valley paper. The government indicates that Louisiana-Pacific has applied to permanently stop using its RTOs and to increase the amount of toxicants that it will emit to the area.

Since that time, we have come together to examine Louisiana-Pacific’s proposal. Here are a few of the things that we have found.
• A number of the contaminants pose risks to human health. Some of the contaminants are known carcinogens. Volatile Organic Compounds, even in low quantities, can affect the central nervous and respiratory systems. The young, old, those with compromised breathing, those with diabetes, and the unborn are most vulnerable.
• RTOs or equivalent equipment are required at Louisiana-Pacific and all OSB mills in the US. This includes mills that operate like the Swan Valley mill.
• A recent comparison of Canada to the US, Europe, and Australia found that “... Canada provides weaker protection for human health from the negative effects of air pollution that the U.S., Australia, and the European Union. Canada is the only nation to rely on voluntary national guidelines, which provide a far weaker approach to air pollution than the national standards in the U.S., Australia, and the European Union”.
• The Company proposes to build higher stacks to more widely disperse the greater amount of toxins.
• Louisiana-Pacific indicates that, once it gets through the economic downturn, the Company will be stronger than ever. Analysts in the field of OSB are predicting that the demand for this product will recover by 2010 and then be very strong. If the Company can cut costs by shutting of pollution controls in Manitoba, it will that much more profitable in the future.
• There are significant questions surrounding the assessments conducted by LP’s consultants.
• The health assessment was done by an organization that receives its funding from the forestry industry, including Louisiana-Pacific. We would be far more confident if the assessment had been conducted by a truly independent organization whose mandate was public health.
• The assessment of the movement and concentrations of toxins was done by a US company that is no longer in existence. We wonder why Louisiana-Pacific did not hire a Manitoba engineering firm, as this kind of work is done by a number of engineers certified to operate in Manitoba.
• There is considerable similarity between how Louisiana-Pacific has handled its assessment of dispersion of the toxins, and how Louisiana-Pacific handled its 1995 assessment of the ability of the forest to provide for the mill. In that case, it has since been proven that Louisiana-Pacific and its consultants massively overestimated the sustainable wood supply and the rate at which the forest grows.

In response to public comments on Louisiana-Pacific’s proposal, Minister Struthers instructed the Clean Environment Commission to conduct an investigation and public meeting.

We are happy that we will be able to participate in a meeting on this issue, although details of the meeting are presently unknown. For example, we are unaware if we will be able to question Louisiana-Pacific’s consultants.

Of particular importance, huge power imbalances exist between large corporations and government, and ordinary citizens. For example, Louisiana-Pacific had sales of almost 1.7 billion dollars in 2007; the Company’s pockets are pretty deep. And government has immense power in relation to the average citizen.

Intervenor funding provides funding to citizens in an effort to level the playing field. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency considers intervenor funding to be one way to provide “Canadians with high quality environmental assessments that contribute to informed decision making, in support of sustainable development.”

We ask you support us by phoning, writing, and emailing to Minister Struthers, Premier Doer, and your local MLA. We ask you to demand that Minister Struthers provide intervenor funding to Concerned Citizens of the Valley. This will allow our group to hire the best of independent expertise. We believe that this matter cannot be left in the hands of industry and government; it is up to us to make certain that the environment and human health will not be compromised for profitability.

Thank you for your time.

Concerned Citizens of the Valley