Oshawa Ethanol Plant More Greed Than Green?

The Harper Conservatives’ latest move to support the building of a $200-million ethanol processing plant on Oshawa’s valuable waterfront is tainted in several ways important to Canadians. 

The corn-based biofuel ethanol has long been considered a questionable alternative to oil and gas; there has been no valid environmental assessment, even though it is close to sensitive wetland; there are blatant examples of patronage surrounding the project, and the entire Oshawa City Council along with many citizens are opposed to it.

‘It’s hard to find a project that fails on so many fronts,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands.  “The problems with corn-based ethanol have been known for years, especially its impact on the price and availability of corn.  Also, this is a post-Bill C-38 venture and we are seeing how token the environmental assessment has been.

“At the same time, this reeks of a small group of insiders ignoring the will of the local people.  It’s shameful on all counts.”

With the feeding of cars competing with the feeding of human beings, the price of corn has risen steadily, as demand overtakes supply.  Now about 40 percent of the world’s production heads to gas stations, rather than grocery stores.  On Friday, the US Department of Agriculture’s world-agricultural-outlook board estimated that global corn consumption will be short by 38.9 million tons.

Ethanol also requires considerable amounts of energy in the production process.  The US Congressional Budget Office found that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide – much more than other methods.

If ethanol lacks credibility, so has the entire process behind the Oshawa Harbour Commission – established by the Harper Conservatives to replace the Port Authority – deal to build the plant.  It was approved Thursday morning at an “in-camera” meeting – with no minutes, no independent witnesses. 

Flaherty-appointee Gary Valcour, chair of the Oshawa Harbour Commission, is the past-president of the Conservative riding association in Flaherty’s Whitby-Oshawa riding.  Tim O’Connor, a former director of FarmTech and brother of the company’s president, Dan O’Connor, is also connected to the riding association.

Apparently, Valcour plans to resign as Commission president – but it is a pathetic gesture.  Flaherty insisted that the Commission’s seven-person board – appointed mainly by the Conservatives – would replace Valcour with a permanent head.

In the spirit of the Conservatives’ Bill C-38, which weakened the environmental assessment process and limited the number of projects requiring an assessment, the ethanol plant’s environmental assessment by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has been discontinued.  Valcour claimed that the Commission’s board had seen enough to sign off on the project.

“We are satisfied there’s no…significant environmental impact,” explained Valcour. “Due diligence has been done in terms of environmental issues.”  

“With their plans to build the ethanol plant on port lands after a token environmental assessment, the Harper Conservatives could very well be putting the many people of Oshawa who use their waterfront at risk,” said area-resident Stacey Leadbetter, Green Party of Canada Federal Council (Ont. Rep.).  “Without a proper assessment we’ll know only if and when something tragic happens.” 

“Even the mayor has been quoted as feeling he’s been left out of the decision-making regarding this refinery and he’s certainly not alone,” said Gail Bates, former Green Party candidate for Oshawa.  “Where is democracy and an interest in citizens’ opinions in this process?

“Local people aren’t going to accept this example of Harper bullying and cronyism all in the name of a few dirty jobs because there won’t be many,” added Bates. “We want clean, safe, sustainable jobs.”

Leadbetter noted that the community is organizing to fight the plant.