MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speech on Climate Change and Petcoke on the Detroit River Shores



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Government Orders

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion--Climate Change

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and share my time today with the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. I appreciate this opportunity to speak to this issue.

I will start with a couple of points. The first is to commend the member for Halifax. She is known in this place as someone who is a reasoned, responsible member of Parliament who is very balanced in her approach to politics and also to her file. This is not being partisan in terms of this motion, as has been charged by the Liberals.

I will not spend much time on this, but it is important to acknowledge. When I arrived here in 2002 there was a lot of talk about Kyoto and the actual legislation and moving forward in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and nothing got done. Very little happened, and I understand why the Liberals are sensitive to this. I can appreciate that, but it cannot erase what took place in this chamber, in this House, in this country and what happened to our reputation across the world. That is just what took place.

The motion by the member for Halifax is very reasoned, responsible and key to the future of this country.

I will start with an environmental success story, just to show some of the challenges we have. I had a meeting today with Lafarge, one of the largest construction cement consortiums in this country. It has international standards on pushing back greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. It is looking at 33% per tonne of cement compared to 1990 levels, 50% moving to non-fossil fuels in cement plants by 2020, including biomass, and also 20% of concrete containing reused or recycled materials. Those are just some examples of the direction in which Lafarge is moving. That is one of the reasons why, when we look at industrial strategies, we need incentives and rewards for those companies that actually perform that way and also have employment that is socially responsible.

Whereas, when we have the current government providing continued corporate tax cuts for the oil and petroleum industry, continued allowances for them to tap into the capital reduction loss account and continued ability to actually get subsidies at a time when we are in a deficit, it is irresponsible. We are borrowing money right now for corporate tax cuts, on the backs of our kids, for an industry that is wildly successful and also damaging to other industries and also is a polluter. It is a result. We have this industry, and we need to wrestle with the consequences of what has taken place. We need to decide where we are going at this point in time and whether corporate tax cuts rewarding this type of activity are appropriate. There should be penalties, and at the same time we should be ensuring we are going to be sustainable.

I can bring up a case. People may not realize that the oil sands industry can be closer to home than they think. I can talk from experience on that. Currently in Windsor and Essex County bitumen that is processed in a Marathon plant in Detroit, from the oil sands, is now petroleum coke that is being stored on the Detroit River. There has not been enough investigation with regard to this material, and the research is still out there, but it was enough that in the port of Los Angeles a $7.5 million barn was built after years of political wrangling and environmental challenges and also reassuring the public, because this material is highly toxic if it gets into the air or the water. Unfortunately, Canadians have rented property from the Ambassador Bridge, a private institution on the American river, and we have petroleum coke at a number of different locations. One of the most significant is about four stories high and about two and a half blocks long. It is so significant that it has become a landmark, and it is right next to the Detroit River. Thankfully for the residents of Windsor, we have to worry about only the air particulate at the moment, because our intake for our municipal water system is upstream. It is not so lucky for people from Amherstburg or farther down the Great Lakes system. It is not so lucky there.

However, the reality is that we now have to deal with a haphazard approach to using this material. The interesting thing about the bitumen that is processed into petroleum coke is that it is later used in coal-burning facilities for energy. It has been described as the dirtiest of the dirtiest of fuels, but this byproduct is not often calculated in greenhouse gas emissions because it is a byproduct.

As well, this will be an interesting factor in the pipeline development. I have been to Washington and heard from American politicians on different sides, and some of them do not want the pipeline built. One person in particular told me that he is concerned about getting this byproduct into Texas and having it shipped to China where it could be used as a cheap energy source to undercut American manufacturing. I do not know how successful he will be, but he is going to try to prevent this project from going forward and is raising this issue in the halls of Washington. This is one of the things that could result from the Keystone project.

The other scenario is that this petcoke could go to many Michigan or other coal-power plants across the United States to be used. Right now it is produced in the Marathon plant in Michigan, but it could be used in others as well. In fact, they tried to bring in a ship to move some of the petcoke off the shores because it is stored temporarily, or maybe it was for another customer, but they had problems doing so.

According to the Detroit Marathon refinery material safety data sheets for petroleum coke, the appropriate storage and handling procedures are as follows:


Store in properly closed containers that are appropriately labeled and in a cool well-ventilated area. Do not expose to heat, open flames, strong oxidizers or other sources of ignition.

We have this material piled on the water.

This is important to the debate here because I have asked the Minister of the Environment to invoke the IJC. I commissioned an independent paper from the Library of Parliament on Canadian and American laws that relate to runoff and airborne substances that could potentially harm human health, and the report showed that our laws are not very strong at all in protecting Canadians, particularly from this substance because it is a newer substance. However, the risk is potentially there because we see this product dumped on the shore. Obviously, when the wind blows, it could result, and is likely resulting, in that product getting into the water system.

The minister has yet to respond to the IJC, and I am perplexed by that. The Great Lakes system is one of the most important things for our environment and economy for the future. Everywhere else in the world, they would be pleased to have this type of treasure, especially as we approach climate change and we have issues related to water systems and supply management. The fact is that this has already been debated in terms of the diversion of water from the Great Lakes system even when the water levels are the lowest in many years, which the Conservative government denied at first despite the Michigan army of engineers showing the evidence.

I want to conclude by noting that this issue and the minister's lack of attention toward this file shows a disregard. At the very least, we should be erring on the side of caution.

We have fought hard in this region, and for many years we have had a blog on the Great Lakes system. We have had invasive species and serious industrialization effects on plants in that area. However, we could actually have improvements, and we have been working for improvements.

Therefore, let us err on the side of caution. Let us get the IJC involved. We have to remember that what is happening in Alberta is affecting every single community across this country.


Mr. Brian Masse:

Mr. Speaker, we have a climate change plan that looks at greenhouse gas emission reductions. There are also issues that we need to deal with, such as the health effects on human populations, as the member mentioned.

I would use the Great Lakes as an example, and I thank the member for the question. In the last federal budget, the fake lake that was built in Toronto received more money per capita than the other Great Lakes did. That is ridiculous.

We need to be focusing on cleaning up our environment. Putting resources toward that would create jobs, would create the sustainability necessary and would create good population bases that we can actually sustain. If we have clean water, we are going to be able to have good, clean communities.

That is one of the priorities I would see, especially as someone living beside the Great Lakes.


Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, in the Windsor-Detroit area, bitumen pet coke, which is a by-product of bitumen, is now being stored next to the Detroit River on our tributary system. This is a direct product of the oil sands, and I have concerns about this.

We have asked the Minister of the Environment to engage the IJC, because the leaching of it into the Detroit River could cause significant effects. I would like my colleague's opinion on that.


Mr. Brian Masse:

Mr. Speaker, that is a great question from the member, as it is a serious issue not just for her area with regard to tourism but also for the freighting system, one of the busiest in the world, which on a regular basis has been reducing its loads going through the system because the lake levels have been so low.

The problem is that fixing it will require some dredging. When we are dredging, we are stirring up a lot of pollutants at the bottom of the water, which is going to create other environmental concerns. That is why I often focus on the bitumen or petcoke that is stored on the waterfront. I recently received a letter from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stating that a permit is not actually required to do this. Anybody can buy this stuff and do whatever they want with it. They have to follow some process for a dust plan and also for leaching, but it is not very strong.

Therefore, again I would call upon the Minister of the Environment. If that department is saying that there is some potential, then there obviously is potential, because otherwise it would not ask for these plans. I would call upon the minister to get the IJC involved. I do not think the government has been supportive enough of the IJC or the work that it does.

Our Great Lakes system is like an H20 highway. It is very important to our industries and very important to our water intake. It needs to be taken more seriously.