Metro Vancouver raises fees on major air pollutants

Metro staff said they set the proposed fee increase at 0.5 percent of the economic cost due to public health consequences from air pollutants. If health were the only factor affecting the cost of pollution, it would be 200 times higher.

Metro Vancouver has raised fees for the region’s biggest air polluters to more than double their current levels over the coming years.

Board members approved the repeal and replacement of two existing bylaws Friday afternoon after staff said the current fees could not pay for the cost of supervision.

The plan, which seeks to reduce the burden on metro taxpayers, will see a gradual fee increase starting next year and peaking in 2028 – a timeline that was extended three years after staff consulted heavy polluters.

Metro staff said they set the proposed fee increase at 0.5 percent of the economic cost due to public health consequences from air pollutants. If health were the only factor affecting the cost of pollution, it would be 200 times higher.

“Although fees are rising dramatically, society still pays the bulk of the cost of air pollutants,” Metro’s director of environmental regulation and enforcement Ray Robb told the climate committee prior to the approval.

The new bylaws represent the first change in air quality and regulatory fees since 2008. In the intervening 13 years, Metro Vancouver’s air quality department has faced a sharp increase in its workload, including an increase in requests from Metro’s 21 jurisdictions and an “extraordinary” amount of Time spent dealing with odorous air pollutant complaints associated with a composting plant in Delta.

The new fees will apply to a number of major emitters in the region, including cement factories, an oil refinery in Burnaby and several sawmills.

As Derek Jennejohn, senior senior engineer at Metro’s Department of Air Quality and Climate Change, puts it: The new fees cover any industrial source you can think of that produces dust or emissions through a stack.

INCREASING HEALTH COSTS

International scientific consensus has led to increasingly serious warnings about the once-overlooked costs of air pollution on human health.

Staff pointed to an update of the World Health Organization’s WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines in September, which noted that air pollution is “one of the biggest environmental threats to human health along with climate change.”

Of the six air pollutants that the WHO recommends stricter controls, Metro is targeting three with the new air pollution charges: nitrogen dioxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and atmospheric particles below 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5).

PM2.5, which is largely generated by burning fossil fuels in everything from transport, industry and agriculture, has been considered a carcinogen since 2013. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that almost 80 percent of deaths related to PM2.5 could be avoided if its guidelines were followed.

“There really is no safe level, so we want to keep it as low as possible.” said Roger Quan, Metro’s director of air quality and climate change, about particles smaller than the width of a human hair.

In drafting the proposed fee increases, staff examined a history of air quality advice over the past 25 years. Between the late 1970s and around 2010, overall air quality improved.

It is when the trend reverses, with ozone the primary culprit in air quality consulting in Metro Vancouver, outside of forest fire smoke. But ozone needs precursors, things like nitric oxide and volatile organic compounds coming out of the vehicle’s exhaust pipes, from an oil refinery in Burnaby or out of the stacks of one of the region’s two major cement plants in Richmond and Delta.

When sunlight hits the surface, the toxic ingredients are converted to ozone.

“In the last two years, we have seen cases of ground-level ozone increase,” Quan said, adding that the June heat dome was a warning of what climate change could do.

“We know we’ll get more sunlight and higher temperatures in the summer, which in turn will exacerbate the problem of ground-level ozone.”

INDUSTRY PUSHES BACK

The air pollution tax is rising sharply divided industry and public opinion.

Metro staff told Glacier Media that the region’s two health authorities supported the new fees. And according to a public opinion poll conducted on behalf of Metro Vancouver, 63 percent of respondents said the emitters should fund the full cost of the region’s air quality regulation services.

But ahead of the vote, industry spokesmen called on Metro to send the proposed bylaws back for further consultation.

Ken Carrusca of the Cement Association of Canada said the increased fees would put an industry at risk supporting more than 23,000 direct and indirect jobs in BC

“COVID-19 has highlighted the need for domestic production,” Carrusca said, pointing to several Metro mega-projects already planned to upgrade the region’s sewer, sewage and renewable energy infrastructure.

“Cement is a strategic local asset.”

Along with staff from the region’s two cement factories, Carrusca said the industry is exposed to cheap US imports, which make up about 20 percent of the cement in BC and are not subject to air pollution taxes.

The price of some pollutants will rise more than others in the coming years.

Tag PM2.5. In 2021, Metro Vancouver charged polluters $ 300 per tonne. ton; next year, the cost of emitting a tonne of PM2.5 in Metro Vancouver will increase to $ 514, and by 2028, the fee will increase to $ 1,800, six times the current fee.

In comparison, the provincial waste tax provisions are $ 20 per. ton.

Overall, the cement delegation said the new fees will cost the Lafarge plant in Richmond nearly $ 654,000 a year by 2028, a 150 percent increase over the current annual fee, but less than half of the factory’s property tax bill by 2021.

As the oldest of the two heavy polluters, the Lehigh plant in Delta will see its annual air pollution charges rise to over $ 1.2 million seven years down the road, double its current fee and half of its 2021 municipal property tax bill.

“[Lehigh is] one of, if not the largest payer of fees in this region – but they are also the largest emitter of harmful air pollutants, “Metros Robb told the climate committee before the vote.

“The fees are going to increase dramatically. We expect companies to look closely and say, ‘Do we really need this? Can we do with less? Can we make changes? “

Robb also pointed to the Burnaby Parkland refinery as one of the largest organic compound emitters in the region, though he said they have made some progress in recent years.

While a relatively low emitter of air pollution by Canadian standards, its proximity to an urban population also puts it in the worst location in Canada for a refinery, Robb added.

COAL SUPPLY NEXT

By sending the bylaws to the board for the final vote, board chairman Sav Dawliwal said the companies targeted are the polluters and that they should therefore “rightly pay.”

City of North Vancouver County. Jessica McIlroy urged Metro Vancouver to show the way.

“We just keep waiting for others to do something and nothing happens,” she said.

The recent fee increase on air pollution is part of a broader strategy Metro is taking to fulfill its role as regulator of air pollution in the region.

Also on Friday, the board approved its budget for 2022, giving the green light to an operating budget of over $ 1 billion and $ 1.38 billion in construction costs for the coming year.

An average household will pay around $ 595 for all regional services, such as waste disposal, sewerage services and water. This is an increase of 21 USD compared to the previous year, but 17 USD less than what the staff had previously expected.

The money will also go to help Metro develop its Clean Air Plan, which, among other things, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from the 2010 level by 2030.

Per capita, annual greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by almost seven percent to 5.4 tonnes in 2020 from 5.8 tonnes in 2015. In 2022, the region expects that figure to fall to 4.2 tonnes.

By raising the fees, Robb said Metro Vancouver has set the bar for air pollution charges higher than anywhere else in Canada.

“At Metro Vancouver, there has been a history of demands for cleaner air. And it costs something,” he says.

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