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Suzuki urges mayor to out city's worst polluters - Globe and Mail

February 16, 2007
Jeff Gray
Globe and Mail

Web-based registry aims to embarrass firms into reducing harmful emissions

Environmental icon David Suzuki met with Toronto Mayor David Miller yesterday, urging him to adopt a scheme meant to shame the city's polluters into cleaning up their act.

The idea, being pushed by local environmental activists, is to set up a public online registry and force all polluters to disclose the volume of potentially harmful substances they spew into the air each year.

"It's kind of a no-brainer that we need full public disclosure as to where and what the various contributors to the atmosphere are," Dr. Suzuki told a news conference, saying the mayor should include the scheme in the clean-air plans promised in his re-election campaign.

The renowned environmentalist, who praised the mayor's green outlook, also urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to adopt tough environmental legislation.

Katrina Miller of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, the activist group calling for what is known as a "community right-to-know" pollution bylaw in Toronto, said city council endorsed the idea in 2000, but has dragged its feet since.

The mayor, speaking at a separate news conference after Dr. Suzuki's visit, said work is under way at the city's board of health on just such a scheme, which he supports, and a report or a proposal is expected "probably" in May.

"That's on its way. We did spend about a minute talking about that. The work's being done. It's
complicated," Mr. Miller said.

". . . You also have to consult with the stakeholders. You know, industry who use chemicals have a right to have a say in how this is going to work."
He said he discussed "high-level" ideas for fighting climate change with Dr. Suzuki.

The mayor said an outline of his climate-change plan should be ready this spring, when he will seek input from the public.

Toronto has made environmental strides, he said. The city government has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to between 40 and 50 per cent below its 1990 levels.

Plus, the mayor added, a Torontonian is responsible, on average, for less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of a typical Canadian: "Because we all live together in a sustainable way, we're already ahead of the curve."

Mr. Miller has pledged to reduce smog-causing pollutants in the city by 20 per cent by 2012.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance says it is necessary to have a public accounting of who is polluting and how much to back up any attempt by the city to reduce air pollution.

Right now, TEA's Ms. Miller said, just 3 per cent of polluters in the city have to disclose what they emit. Other jurisdictions, including the state of Massachusetts and the city of Eugene, Ore., have implemented stringent pollution registries that have shamed polluters into changing their ways, she added.

A Web-based registry system would even allow home buyers to check out pollution levels in
their prospective new neighborhoods before making a deal, she said.

Ms. Miller, who helped co-ordinate Dr. Suzuki's visit, expressed concerns about the repeated delays that have plagued the registry idea in Toronto, and urged the mayor to consider including such a scheme as part of his pledge to reduce smog-causing pollutants.

The visit, and criticism over foot-dragging on the registry idea, appeared to cause friction between the mayor's office and the TEA, a group that has been widely perceived as supportive of the mayor. (Gord Perks, a former TEA campaigner, won a council seat in the fall with aggressive backing from the mayor.)

"[The mayor's office] had a little freak out on us," Ms. Miller said yesterday, adding that her group softened the wording of its news release to appease the mayor's office, changing the word "urge" to "discuss."

Don Wanagas, the mayor's director of communications, confirmed that concerns were raised over
the wording of the group's news release, since it went out before Mr. Miller and Dr. Suzuki had met yesterday.

Dr. Suzuki, on a cross-country tour to beat the drums on the environment, also tried to keep the pressure up on the Prime Minister yesterday, saying he should move quickly to "neutralize" the environment as a possible election issue and take serious action on climate change.

"We don't need some kind of law in Parliament now," Dr. Suzuki said of the present move on Parliament Hill to try to force the Conservative minority government to abide by the treaty.

"We're bound as international signatories to the Kyoto Protocol to meet it. I don't think you can just come in and say, 'Well, I don't believe in Kyoto. It's too hard to meet, and we're not going to do anything."

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