Environment Minister Terry Lake is being urged to decide quickly whether Metro Vancouver can build more garbage incinerators within the region or if waste must instead be sent further afield.
The proposed Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan was approved by Metro directors last summer and sent to Victoria, where it has bounced between three different environment ministers as a result of a series of cabinet shuffles.
A spokesman for Lake said ministry staff are still analyzing the plan and expect to report to him by early June.
Metro waste committee chair Greg Moore has been assured Lake hopes to decide soon after that.
“Obviously we want to get the plan done as soon as possible so we can move forward with it,” said the Port Coquitlam mayor, who met with Lake earlier this month.
Metro needs time to call for bids and then build new waste-to-energy facilities – if allowed – by a 2015 target date.
“When you start to work the clock backwards we really need a decision in the very short term so we can move forward with the procurement and the construction process,” Moore said.
The plan commits the region to recycle 70 per cent of the waste stream by 2015, up from 55 per cent now, by diverting organics and other recyclable materials.
But even with that improvement, the region would still need to dispose of an estimated 500,000 tonnes of waste beyond what can be handled at the existing Vancouver landfill and Burnaby incinerator.
Continuing to truck it to the regional landfill at Cache Creek would be the last resort, as the plan is now written.
Metro’s first preference is to build a new in-region waste-to-energy plant, or – if that’s blocked – one at a site outside the region, likely at Gold River on Vancouver Island, where proponents already have required permits in place.
Opponents of more garbage incineration, including critics who fear for air quality in the Fraser Valley, have urged Lake to reject that part of the plan.
The minister can approve the plan, send it back for revisions or rewrite it himself.
Metro would consider various new waste-to-energy technologies, not just incineration.
Moore said Metro also wants the province to count electricity generated by Metro waste-to-energy plants as green power, for which B.C. Hydro pays a hefty premium.
“We brought that up with Minister Lake,” Moore said. “We believe we should look to get a preferred rate for that renewable energy.”
Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta, who wants Metro garbage to go to an expanded landfill planned by his town to preserve local jobs, said B.C. needs a clear and tighter definition of what counts as green power.
He noted U.S. lawmakers have decided to count some waste-to-energy as green power but exclude what is generated from fossil fuel-based wastes.
“Obviously you can’t continue to burn plastic in an incinerator and expect that to count as sustainable energy, because the input is manufactured from non-renewable resources,” Ranta said.
A tussle is also continuing over whether the plan will let Metro export garbage to the U.S.
The province vowed in 2009 to ban out-of-province garbage exports but never followed through.
Ranta said Lake has indicated the government won’t outlaw trash exports because such legislation would trigger a U.S. challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But legislation isn’t necessary, he said, adding he has urged Lake to instead simply delete U.S. exports as an option in the Metro waste plan.
“I would consider that an appropriate modification in support of B.C. jobs.”
Metro officials and politicians say they need the option to export garbage to the U.S. in order to negotiate a fair deal with prospective waste-to-energy plant operators and especially with the Cache Creek landfill if incinerators are vetoed.
Ranta, who is allied with incinerator opponents in the Fraser Valley, said pressure on Lake there is intensifying.
He said government MLAs in the Fraser Valley have met with Lake out of concern their re-election chances may be hurt if the province approves Metro’s waste-to-energy strategy.
“Politics plays a role in this,” Ranta said. “He’s got a difficult decision to make and he’s got all kinds of pressures on him.”