Turbines decision overturns Precautionary Principle
The Dec. 20 decision by the Minister of the Environment to approve the Ostrander Point Industrial Wind Turbine project is an astonishing and sad display of cynical and manipulative decision-making (“Turbine approval irks county mayor,” as reported on Dec. 21 – Kingston Whig Standard).
After just over 10 months of deliberation on the over 1,500 public comments received on the proposal, MOE announced their approval two working days before the Christmas holidays commenced, leaving opponents of the project a grand total of eight working days to put together the documentation required to request an Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) hearing on the project.
I applaud the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists for their decision to proceed with a request for an ERT hearing. They have clearly worked overtime in order to get their ERT documentation together in time to meet the Jan. 4 deadline. They have an uphill battle ahead. In approving the project under Section 47.5 of the Environmental Protection Act, the MOE has essentially short-circuited any valid technical objections to the project.
It is difficult to determine how many of the over 1,500 comments put in to the MOE during the public consultation period were negative, since the MOE has only published about 400 of them on their website. It is clear from reading those which were published, together with the MOE reply to comments, that many valid environmental issues were ignored by MOE during the review period – for example, comments on the methodology of ecological impact assessment carried out by the proponents and comments on the potential cumulative effects of the development together with other committed and planned turbine installations.
The MOE has even ignored the recommendations by the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario not to put wind turbines in Important Bird Areas!
None of that is relevant now. In approving the proposals, despite the highly questionable technical validity of the assessments, the onus of proof has been shifted from the project proponent to the opponents.
Despite the demonstrably flawed assessment carried out by the developer, it is now necessary under Section 142.1 of the EPA for the opponents to prove that the project will cause harm to humans or the environment. In one fell swoop, the Precautionary Principle has been tossed out the window.
(Definition of Precautionary Principle – If an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action – i.e. it is up to the proponent to demonstrate his project will not cause harm.)
There are virtually no other First World jurisdictions where the Precautionary Principle (a basic principle of International Environmental Law) is overturned in this way.
This is politically motivated decision-making at its worst and reduces Ontario’s vaunted environmental protection regime to the level of Third World dictatorship.