Feds face big bill for toxic site cleanup 0
The feds are in the dark about the full risks and costs of contaminated sites across Canada under their care, the federal environment watchdog said Tuesday.
In his spring report, environment commissioner Scott Vaughan praised the government for making strides in identifying 22,000 contaminated sites and putting in place steps to manage them.
But while nearly half the contaminated sites have been shuttered, "we expect that dealing with the remaining 13,000 sites will be a major challenge," he said.
The federal government has spent $1.5 billion since 2005 to clean these sites under a special $3.5-billion Environment Canada program.
Vaughan said the program faces a $500-million shortfall to deal with sites identified for a cleanup and most of the funding is focused on cleaning up four high-risk sites.
"It's therefore unclear how the thousands of other contaminated sites will be managed," Vaughan said, noting many haven't been assessed for the risks they pose to the environment and human health.
The watchdog's analysis also found the government hasn't crunched the costs to clean up some 11,800 sites in its inventory. Those sites could quickly ramp up the $7.7 billion in environmental liabilities the government has calculated so far.
The sites can pollute soil, water and air and can pose a risk to human health with contaminants ranging from lead and arsenic to diesel fuels and radioactive material.
Many sites are "legacy issues" from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, before environmental assessments were introduced in Canada, Vaughan said.
He cautioned the government to be prudent as it tries to streamline its environmental assessment process for natural resources projects.
"We cannot go back and repeat the errors of the past — I don't think Canadians can afford it," he said.
Vaughan said the federal plan for one environmental review per project has yet to be finalized and that his office is looking at the proposed legislation.
In a separate audit, Vaughan noted time is running out for the feds to reach their climate change target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.
It is "unlikely but not impossible" for the Conservative government to reach its goal, Vaughan said.
"There is no detailed plan to identify how to get from here to there," he said.
In response, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Canada is 25% closer to its target and promised more efforts are forthcoming.