Should economic development trump environmental assessment – the example of the Port-Daniel-Gascons Cement Plant

On September 3rd 2013 the Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, announced that the Port-Daniel-Gascons cement plant would not have to be submitted to an environmental review by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), allowing construction of the near billion dollar project to begin by the end of the year (Haroun, 2013).  The PQ government and the proponent of the plant, McInnis Cement, state that the project will meet all environmental regulations and “be a model of environmental performance” (McInnis Cement, 2013).  More importantly its construction and operation will create 400 to 600 direct and indirect jobs over the next 2 years in a chronically depressed area of the province.  Local ecologists are dismayed at the decision to exclude this project from the BAPE as it will be responsible for more than 2 million tons of Green House Gas emissions per year once in operation (Haroun, 2013), increasing Quebec’s GHG emissions from industry by 10% alone.

Yet again the role of the environmental assessment process has been misunderstood by Quebec politicians and the business community for short-lived regional economic development and short-term political gain.  While it is true that this project was submitted to the government for approval before June 22, 1995, when the environmental rules governing such developments were strengthened (Haroun, 2013), the magnitude of the impacts of this project should have played a more important role in the decision making process.

Environmental assessment is a crucial part of the decision making process for the carrying out of a project.  It is a process that is supposed to identify and predict the impacts of a project, find ways to minimize or avoid negative impacts, enhance and create positive impacts, and ensure that the environmental consequences of development decisions are fully understood (Noble, 2008).  It is a tool for a sustainable future, not a hindrance to development.  In Quebec, for over 30 years the BAPE has been tasked with conducting public reviews of projects that have significant impact on the environment (BAPE, 2009).  The BAPE procedures for public consultation are regarded as some of the best in the world – both impartial, and fair to all parties involved.

One may ask why the Port-Daniel-Gascons cement plant should be reviewed by the BAPE, as it appears to have met all legal requirements for its approval and construction.  First, it will be the largest cement plant in Quebec and one of the largest in the world.  Second, it will use fuels that will lead to a significant increase in CO2 emissions for the whole province – contrary to Quebec’s policy on GHG emission reduction (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs, 2013), and in the future they may use alternate fuels, such as tires, that will have more environmental impacts.  While the project proponent states that it meets all requirements for emissions they omit the fact that those limits are voluntary (CCME, 1998).

592414-site-cimenterie-port-daniel-investissement

La Presse, 2012

Cement kilns, the heart of any cement plant, need a large supply of high energy content fuel to maintain the very high temperatures required for the conversion of limestone into the intermediate product that becomes the primary component of Portland cement (Chen et al, 2010; Van Oss & Padovani, 2002).  Every ton of cement produced needs approximately 1.25  tons of limestone, 1/3 ton of clay, 200 litres of water, and 450 kg of petroleum coke (the proposed fuel) (Chen et al, 2010).   The process produces significant emissions of particulates (dust and smoke) and gases with CO2 having the largest impact (Van Oss & Padovani, 2002).  In the case of the Port-Daniel-Gascons plant, the source fuel that McInnis has chosen, petroleum coke has a significant environmental impact of its own.  Petroleum Coke, or Petcoke, is a by-product of the refining process of petroleum (IUPAC, 1997).  It is high in carbon content making it a suitable fuel for the high temperatures (1450 to 1500 degrees Celsius) needed inside a cement kiln.  Alternative fuels for cement plants include: coal, oil, natural gas, and various waste products such as tires.  The same high temperatures allow for the destruction of hazardous waste – both biological (medical and animal processing), and chemical (Van Oss & Padovani, 2002).

The impacts of the GHG emissions alone should have warranted a review of the project, the economic and social impacts should not be overlooked.  The Port-Daniel-Gascons cement plant proposal is not new – it was first proposed in 1990, and had an abortive start to construction in the late 1990’s.  Despite the best efforts of successive provincial governments the project has not been started as the economic situation in the United States has been the main driver of the project (McInnis Cements, 2013).  Such a large cement plant cannot function economically within the Quebec economy – exporting to the world market is the only option for a viable operation.  With the current global financial and trade situation reliance on exports is a path fraught with uncertainties that offers no guarantees for the long term operation of the plant.  Might it become another Gaspésia fiasco?  For the sake of the Gaspe region one hopes not, but it is one aspect that a full BAPE review would put to rest.  Who will take responsibility for the environmental, economic, and social impacts after the political gains have long since disappeared?  Let’s hope the government sees the error of its ways and sends this project to a full review to the BAPE so that it can build a solid environmental legacy when other levels of government are failing to do that.

 

References:

Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE). (2009). Plan stratégique 2008-2013, Québec, Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement.  Retrieved from: http://www.bape.gouv.qc.ca/sections/documentation/plan_strat_2008-2013.pdf

CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment)(1998). National Emission Guideline for Cement Kilns. PN 1284. Winnipeg, Manitoba :CCME

Chen, C., Habert, G., Bouzidi, Y., & Jullien, A. (2010). Environmental impact of cement production: detail of the different processes and cement plant variability evaluation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(5), 478-485.

Haroun, T. (2013, September 3).  Port-Daniel-Gascons – Un projet de cimenterie d’un milliard échappe au BAPE. Ledevoir.com. Retrieved from : http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/386525/un-projet-de-cimenterie-d-un-milliard-echappe-au-bape

IUPAC ( 1997). Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the “Gold Book”). Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.

McInnis Ciment (2013). Retrieved from http://cimentmcinnis.com/projet-cimenterie-ciment-mcinnis

Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs (2013), Inventaire québécois des émissions de gaz à effet de serre en 2010 et leur évolution depuis 1990, Québec, ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction des politiques de la qualité de l’atmosphère, 20 p.

Noble, Bram. (2008). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

Van Oss, H., & Padovani, A. C. (2002). Cement manufacture and the environment. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 6(1), 89-106.

 

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