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Red tape holding up city's green plans

Watchdog says council's good ideas on environment are trapped in a nightmare of bureaucratic delays

Mar 23, 2009 04:30 AM

Moira Welsh

Mayor David Miller's promise to make Toronto the greenest city in North America is failing, trapped in a nightmare of bureaucratic delays, says an environmental watchdog group.

In its annual Smog Report, the Toronto Environmental Alliance gave Miller an A-plus and the majority of council high grades for giving the green light to climate-change projects. But it found 30 per cent of those plans languish in myriad city departments.

"We can no longer accept delays that traditionally plague many city environmental initiatives," the report concludes. "If we want to be, as Mayor Miller promises, the greenest city in North America, we need to set a new standard for getting work done."

The alliance is a 20-year-old non-profit group with 5,000 members, which lobbies for local solutions to environmental problems.

The mayor, who was briefed on the report, said he found its criticisms "misguided" and insisted Toronto is still on track to be North America's greenest city.

"I think that concern is wrong," Miller said. "There is so much happening on the environmental front at city hall. I think TEA needs to step back a moment. The initiatives that have happened in the last 2 1/2 years are extraordinary.

"Are one or two a bit slower than we had hoped? Yes. But there are also tremendous accomplishments happening in other areas."

Projects for green energy and job development are among those the alliance says are stuck in red tape:

The blueprint for Toronto's sustainable energy plan has been delayed for more than a year.

Plans to obtain 25 per cent of the city's electricity from green energy starting in 2008 are facing a delay of at least two years.

A report on Toronto's green job development strategy was expected in late 2007, but remains outstanding.

Delayed staff reports on the two-stroke engine ban (gas-powered lawnmowers and the like) mean it is likely to miss its implementation date of 2010.

The alliance's Katrina Miller, one of the report's authors, said she and executive director Franz Hartmann spent five months researching it and consistently found problems with bureaucratic delays.

"The city cannot expect to be an environmental leader if the bureaucracy isn't willing to follow the lead of council," Katrina Miller said.

The report notes Toronto's successes in public transit and energy conservation. It gives the city a B-plus grade for 2008 – significant progress over 2007's C-plus.

Successes include:

  • The Mayor's Tower Renewal Program for energy-efficient retrofits on 1,000 old apartment buildings.
  • The Green Fleet program to replace city vehicles with hybrids.
  • Live Green Toronto, which helps fund home and community projects that reduce greenhouse gases.
  • A network of bike lanes planned to be in place by 2012.
  • A community right-to-know bylaw to monitor and publicize toxic substances emitted by industry.
  • A local-food procurement policy.

Despite the successes, Katrina Miller said two important climate-change programs, a sustainable energy plan involving green procurement and a green-jobs strategy, faced significant city staff delays. They are "absolutely crucial," she said. "Climate-change programs will not be successful if we don't have a green-energy component.

Green projects the alliance says are stuck in red tape:

  • The blueprint for Toronto's sustainable energy plan has been delayed for more than a year.
  • Plans to obtain 25 per cent of the city's electricity from green energy by 2008 delayed at least two years.
  • A report on Toronto's green-job development strategy, expected in late 2007, is still outstanding.
  • Ban on two-stroke engines (gas-powered lawn mowers, etc.) is likely to miss planned 2010 start date.

"And, the initiative to create a green jobs (strategy) and manufacturing in Toronto is falling by the wayside ... In the midst of a recession, it would create thousands of jobs in the city, jobs that lead to environmental good, or jobs that are at least environmentally benign," she said.

The report blames a lack of coordination between city offices. Departmental "silos" mean many do not communicate or work toward the same goals, the report said.

The mandate of the Toronto Environmental Office is to oversee developing and implementing such programs. Its "cluster" of departments includes hard services such as water, waste and transportation.

But the report notes other departments and agencies work outside its reach.

Economic development, parks, real estate management and fleet services, for instance, manage significant environmental projects, as do agencies such as Toronto Public Health and Toronto Hydro.

Lawson Oates, director of the Toronto Environmental Office, said he respects the alliance's work and will discuss the group's findings with city staff next week. He said a new manager in the Economic Development department is committed to the city's green jobs program.

Mayor Miller has competition from other North American cities for the greenest-of-all status.

New York, Chicago, Vancouver, and Seattle all have a top-level bureaucrat to manage the programs and report to the city manager or mayor.

The alliance is calling upon Toronto's city manager, Joseph Pennachetti, to push council's projects through the bureaucracy.

"We want him to take direct charge of both the green-energy agenda and the green-jobs agenda," Katrina Miller said.

"We want him to put that in his office to ensure real progress has been made in the next six months."

As published: http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/606562

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