Socially and Environmentally Responsible Aggregates

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Mike Schreiner’s remarks for the panel on Socially and Environmentally Responsible Aggregates

Rural Ontario Municipal Association / Ontario Good Roads Association 2012 Conference

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Thanks for inviting me to participate on this panel.  Pits and quarries are certainly a hot topic where I have my second home in Dunedin, located in beautiful Clearview Township, on the Niagara Escarpment. 

There is no doubt that aggregates are essential to our community, economy and quality of life.  We need them to construct homes, roads, buildings and other infrastructure.  We need a profitable and sustainable aggregate industry.

It is also clear that pits and quarries are increasingly competing with other land uses.  Aggregate mining raises concerns about the effect on clean water, air, local food sources, traffic congestion, as well as cultural, social and natural heritage.  
 
It is not uncommon for licenses, permits and certificates of approval to be met with strong local opposition.  When 30,000 people come out for Foodstock on a wet, cold October day to express opposition to the Melancthon Mega Quarry, it is clear that Ontario needs to change our aggregate policies.
 
This kind of conflict is bad for business and expensive for everyone.  We need to find innovative, long-term solutions to this conflict.
 
I commend the groundbreaking work that SERA (Socially and Environmentally Responsible Aggregates) is doing to develop a world-class certification system for responsibly sourced aggregates.  And I’m also pleased to be on this panel with representatives from Walker Aggregates representing the The Aggregate Forum.  
 
It’s encouraging to see industry leaders and environmental NGOs working together on sustainable solutions to move us forward toward a sustainable aggregate industry.
 
I think it is also time for the provincial government to step up to the plate, show leadership and revise the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA).
 
For nearly two decades the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) has raised concerns about the Ministry of Natural Resources’ ability to properly and effectively fulfill its obligations to oversee and regulate aggregates in the province.
 
The ECO has raised concerns about:
 

  • a lack of capacity at MNR to fulfill its obligations;
  • the siting of aggregate operations near urbanized areas and sensitive natural areas;
  • a lack of compliance with approvals by aggregate producers; 
  • enforcement of approvals by the province;
  • a low rate of rehabilitation of pits and quarries;
  • inadequate long-term planning; 
  • the geographic scope of the ARA.

I would add concerns about the need for conservation and recycling efforts, proactive community participation in decision making and better coordination across ministries in order to connect the dots between the Provincial Policy Statement, Growth Plans, and infrastructure investments.  It is Ontario’s growth plans that are driving demand for new aggregates.
 
If the Province does not act to solve these challenges, conflicts around pits and quarries will only increase.  This will place more stress on citizens, municipalities and the aggregate industry.  Everyone loses.
 
Conflict is expensive and unpredictable.  I think it is better for all stakeholders to come to the table with solutions to fix the problem.
 
Together, we need to challenge entrenched business as usual norms, think long-term and broad, and engage diverse stakeholders in solutions. 
 
I have three broad suggestions for moving us forward:
 
1. Change the focus from prioritizing consumption and supply to encouraging efficiency, conservation and recycling.  
 
Aggregates are a valuable finite resource.  It makes sense that we would use this resource efficiently and treat aggregates with the care that they deserve.
 
I love cycling the Leslie Spit, but do we really need a land bridge to Rochester with construction fill?
 
Ontario’s aggregate recycling rate of only 7% is unacceptably low.  We should set a goal of matching the UK’s recycling rate of 24%.
 
Government needs to put in place the policy framework and market incentives to get us there.
 
Municipalities can play an important role in this effort by removing specifications that do not allow recycled aggregates to be used in construction projects.  This is one of the first steps in removing the 3 million tonne backlog of of recyclable concrete, asphalt and aggregate currently sitting in recycling yards.
 
The province needs to step up to the plate and mandate minimum standards for increased use of recycled materials in public and private development.
 
We need to consider introducing a landfill tax to discourage the disposal of recyclable aggregate materials.
 
The Green Party has called for an increase in the 11.5 cent per tonne tariff for mined aggregates.  One reason the UK has such a high recycling rate is that their per tonne tariff is above £2.00 per tonne.  Raising the tariff creates a strong market incentive for conservation and recycling.  While £2.00 per tonne may be too high for Ontario, we should have a $.50 per tonne levy as in Quebec.
 
2.  Which brings me to my second main point:  Ontario needs to ensure we have the capacity, necessary resources and policy framework in place for proper permitting, monitoring, compliance and rehabilitation of pits and quarries.
 
According to the ECO, the MNR does not have the resources to provide proper planning and oversight of aggregates.  
 
In today’s budget climate, with a record $16 billion deficit, financial resources will not come from general revenues.
 
The ECO states that a 1 cent increase in the per tonne fee for aggregates could double MNR capacity.
 
I believe fees should cover costs related to reviews and approvals, licensing, monitoring, operations, supporting infrastructure and rehabilitation, as the cost of doing business.
 
Revenue from a fee increase would enable MNR to increase the number of field inspectors and enable site inspections of all operations at least once a year.
 
A fee increase would provide revenue for municipalities to deal with increased costs for compliance, planning, transportation, and other expenses.
 
Increased revenue would provide The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC) with more resources to improve rehabilitation efforts.  
 
Now is the time to update and modernize the policy framework for aggregates by holding the Liberals to their promise to review the ARA.
 
At a minimum the ARA should require a full Environmental Assessment for aggregate applications that meet the Ministry of Natural Resource’s definition of a mega quarry (currently 150,000,000 tonnes) and/or digs below the water table.
 
Part of the ARA review should explore alternatives to the current close-to-market provisions in the Act.
 
Revisions also need to provide for more local participation in aggregate planning.  We need more community involvement in zoning, approvals for amendments to the aggregate license, a stronger role in monitoring and compliance, and a proactive role in site planning. 
 
3.  Don’t develop aggregate policy in isolation.
 
It is essential for the provincial government to have better coordination across ministries in order to connect the dots between the Provincial Policy Statement, Growth Plans and infrastructure investments.  
 
Industry is not increasing demand for aggregates; Ontario’s growth plans are driving demand for new aggregates.
 
We need better designed communities, roads, and other infrastructure that simply uses less aggregates.  Given our financial challenges, Ontario cannot afford to fund inefficient, sprawling growth plans.  The infrastructure costs are huge, and it is placing too much pressure on our farmland, water resources and natural heritage.
 
The pressure for aggregates in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which includes the sensitive natural areas of the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, are driven by Ontario’s growth policies.  Forcing 80% of Ontario’s growth in this area is driving demand for aggregates in sensitive natural areas and competing with land uses for farming and water.  It would be much better for Ontario to have balanced development in communities across the province.
 
Our Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) must place a greater emphasis on preserving precious farmland.  While we have a close to market policy that prioritizes aggregate extraction in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, we don’t have a food security policy that prioritizes the preservation of farmland and farmers.  This needs to change.  At a minimum, Ontario needs to change the PPS to protect class 1, 2, 3 and 4 farmland from development.
 
Provincial and municipal governments must use their purchasing power to demand green gravel.  As industry and NGOs develop sustainable aggregate standards, government can encourage and support these efforts with purchasing policies that require green gravel certification. 
 
Without a doubt, some of the changes I’ve suggested will increase the cost of aggregates.  But conflict over aggregate pits and quarries also increases costs.  And we are paying for many of these costs in other areas.  
 
It makes more sense for these costs to be included in the price for aggregates so that we have market signals that create incentives and rewards for the efficient use of aggregates.
 
It’s time to move from a focus on consumption to one of conservation.
 
It’s time to revise the ARA and give municipalities and the MNR the resources to do their job properly.
 
And it’s time to connect the dots on aggregates across ministries and policies that are driving demand for aggregates.
 
Our children will thank us for having the foresight to do the right thing.
 
Thank you for your time.