The provincial Environmental Appeal Board has finished its hearing and is now considering the evidence that the Ministry of the Environment may have erred in giving Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) a permit to increase its sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 56 per cent, from 27 to 42 tonnes a day.
The board needs to consider a number of important social questions.
Does a private corporation have the right to pollute the public space? Unless the company can show that public benefit far outweighs harm, the answer is ‘no’.
Do the taxes added to the public treasury and the jobs available to the community offset the damage to the environment and the people who live in it?
Is the company doing its best to reduce pollution to its lowest?
The answer to both questions is ‘no’. RTA could easily install a scrubber that would drastically reduce SO2 emissions. Norwegian Hydro has used scrubbers to reduce theirs by more than 90 per cent.
So why doesn’t RTA follow world standard, removing over 800,000 tons over the life of the smelter of sulphur dioxide from the air of a very confined air shed in which over 30,000 people breath?
Is it because, if the permit to emit 42 tons of pollution a day is upheld, it will represent the maximum amount of SO2 that the valley can withstand?
Which means that no one else can emit any. Which means that if RTA then puts in a scrubber and reduces their pollution, they can sell their reduction to other industries for more than the original cost of the scrubber?
Does Rio Tinto think it’s OK to pollute when they don’t have to and to then sell pollution rights?
Social licence is the application of public values, expressed as approval. Canadians value their health and that of their environment and strongly believe that great care should be take with both. Rio Tinto is losing social licence by refusing to reduce projected pollution, when it is well within their power to do so, in order to increase their private profitability.
They have argued that their increase in SO2 is defensible because the new smelter will reduce other harmful emissions which they now have the technology to profitably reprocess.
Should RTA only reduce emissions when they can profit from that?
When does a permit to pollute go from an unhappy necessity to an addition to the company’s profitability?
Rio Tinto Alcan has not explained why they think reducing three sources of pollution gives them the right to increase the fourth source.
Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain which kills trees and aquatic life if it goes on long enough in high enough concentrations.
This is not the first time this company has created a new profit centre at public expense.
Alcan, as the company was known prior to its purchase by Rio Tinto, was given the right by provincial legislation in 1950 to divert a huge amount of public water to create the electricity required to produce aluminum.
In return, it was to produce jobs for the North. As electricity became worth more than the aluminum, Alcan won the right to reduce its production and therefore the number of jobs it provided to sell more “surplus” electricity.
In designing the new smelter now nearing full completion, Rio Tinto Alcan could have increased production more given the amount of power it had available to it. It chose not to in order to protect it’s very profitable electricity sales. Less public good, more private profit.
In designing its new smelter, RTA could have built in the scrubber to reduce its pollution. It chose not to. Less public good, more private profit.
Can the government amend the permit it has issued Rio Tinto?
Can they act on our behalf to increase the public good? There has been enough private profit at public expense.
Terrace, B.C. resident Robert Hart is a member of Northwest Watch and the Terrace Chapter of the Council of Canadians.