Even more important for Canada, it appears that as a result auto manufacturers are now considering a joint testing program between the U.S. and Canada because MMT may be on the U.S. unleaded gas market within the year. And note I said "may be".
What will Canada be doing as MMT fills gas stations across the border? Preventing its movement to appease the current whims of the auto industry. While the government commits itself to eliminating internal trade barriers in Bill C-88, the
Minister of the Environment is busy erecting them in Bill C-94. Not only does this demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Liberal commitment to freer trade between the provinces. It also demonstrates the inability of the Minister of the Environment to act decisively and responsibly on an important issue. Lacking the hard evidence to defend the outright elimination of MMT in fuels, she is caving in to the lobbying efforts of one group. Instead of making her decision based on technical information regarding the problems with the use of MMT, she is completely sidestepping the issue.
Bill C-94 means MMT can still be sold and used wherever it is produced. So petroleum producers could produce MMT in southern Ontario, where most cars are driven, and they would not be prohibited from selling it at the pumps. Somehow I do not see how this addresses the real issue of whether or not MMT contributes to pollution or should be used at all in Canada. This merely prevents the transport of MMT across borders but does not prevent its use.
If I were a suspicious and cynical westerner I might question the regional economic impacts of this bill, which seem to far outweigh any environmental concerns the minister might have. I might wonder why the minister refuses to consider studies by petroleum producers in western Canada or the United States. I might wonder if she represents the interests of all Canadians in all industries or merely a select few in Liberal territory in central Canada.
If I were really cynical I might wonder at the timing of the introduction of this bill, during the Ontario election campaign, in the province most dependent on the auto industry. When faced with an ultimatum by the auto companies to ban MMT use by August, what did the government do? Did it get tough and try to determine what the truth is regarding its effects? No, that would be too much to expect.
The government has a very bad track record when it comes to standing up for Canadians in the face of pressure from big industry. Remember the powerful tobacco lobby last year, when the government refused to look at a real solution to the smuggling problem. Instead of raising export tariffs or beefing up our anti-smuggling patrols, it gave the tobacco companies what they wanted: lower taxes to add new teenage smokers to their growing list of the addicted.
Instead of finding out the truth about MMT, the government is acceding to the demands of the car lobby without independent proof of its claims. What is more, possibly because they cannot prove the harmful effects of MMT, the environment minister is not actually banning it, just restricting its movement.
Something is not quite right here. Why is the Minister of the Environment championing a bill that says and does absolutely nothing about protecting the environment? Until we have an independent study, the only things being protected here are the interests of the auto industry.
What will some of the consequences of this legislation be? For one thing, increased pollution from sulphur emissions in western Canada, where the refineries must change their processing. If MMT cannot be moved interprovincially, producers will spend an additional $100 million to switch over to another fuel additive and will have to refine the gas more for higher octane levels, thereby increasing sulphur emissions. Is that increase in pollution included in the minister's calculations?
There will be up to a 20 per cent increase in nitrogen oxide levels emitted by cars if we ban MMT. Of course now the car manufacturers dispute the 20 per cent figure because of the changes they have been forced to make with the new pollution controls.
Kicking and screaming, the auto industry finally started to invest some research and development dollars into eliminating pollution. Suddenly it has found that it can reduce nitrogen oxide levels substantially. It does not dispute that MMT would decrease nitrogen oxide levels further, only that it will not be as much as 20 per cent because it has finally started producing more efficient cars. However, no one has calculated how much nitrogen oxide levels will go up once a final balance is reached between more efficient cars and less efficient alternate fuel additives.
Let us look at the other side of the equation. How much would it cost auto manufacturers to develop a flushing system or technology to deal with the effects of MMT? I think $100 million seems a little steep, but I am not a scientist or a chemist. I do not pretend to understand why research to solve the problem would cost more than $100 million. Either way, it is the Canadian driver who is going to lose.
MMT has been in use in Canada for 18 years. There is no guarantee that it will not be around for another 18 years. If the auto industry had such grave concern about the effect of MMT on emission systems, why was that not built into the original R and D? Why should the federal government legislate a ban on the movement of MMT because the auto industry did not deem the Canadian fuel market important enough to consider it while it was developing its OBD systems?
On the one hand, if we do not use MMT we have the potential for increasing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and other smog ingredients, with their various negative health effects. On the other hand, if we keep MMT no one will know if or when the emission systems fail because the detection systems will be disabled.
I want to turn now to the second part of the debate, which seems to have been buried in Canada but was the reason the EPA initially denied the waiver for MMT in unleaded gas in the U.S. That is the issue of airborne manganese and its effects on the health of Canadians.
We have known for more than a hundred years that airborne manganese is harmful and results in neurological disorders similar to Parkinson's disease. It has been an occupational hazard in manganese mines, where workers breathe in an extremely high level of manganese dust.
One would think that the Minister of the Environment would want to ban MMT if it contributed to unsafe manganese levels in our air. In light of the EPA statements, one would think she would want to conduct tests to see whether Canada should control airborne manganese. Why does she not? Why instead does she go through a ridiculous loop to ban the interprovincial trade of manganese based substances? Should she not as Minister of the Environment be more concerned about emissions?
Although Environment Canada has not conducted studies on this issue, Health Canada has. Its findings are very interesting and refute the EPA administrator's reasonable concerns about the health risks of MMT with hard evidence. The Health Canada study attempted to determine a safe daily intake of airborne manganese. Our bodies can handle ingested manganese much better than airborne manganese. It is an essential part of our diet. However excessive intake of manganese can result in an accumulation in the brain, which will cause the neurological problems I mentioned. Infants and older people are particularly susceptible to the negative effects.
What did Health Canada discover? After establishing a safe daily intake level it studied airborne manganese, particularly that related to MMT. Even garage mechanics fell well inside the acceptable range of manganese inhalation. The major findings regarding MMT are as follows, and I quote from the study:
Levels of respirable manganese in major Canadian urban centres have remained constant or decreased from 1986 to 1992, and do not reflect major changes in MMT use during that time, suggesting that MMT does not contribute substantially to manganese concentrations.
The part of the study I found most enlightening was with respect to why the minister might be reluctant to initiate a study on the effects of MMT related specifically to airborne manganese in particular industrial towns. The study reads:
Inhalation exposure to manganese has been assessed for residents of cities with large manganese-emitting industries such as steel mills. Current mean ambient air manganese levels are at, or substantially above, the acceptable daily intake. Inhalation uptake from all age groups approaches or exceeds the total daily uptake. This raises concern regarding chronic exposure to manganese for residents in these cities and recommendations are made regarding this issue.
If we had an environment minister truly concerned about the effect of emissions on Canadian health one she would be right on top of trying to control manganese emissions from steel plants in towns like Hamilton. Perhaps that is expecting a bit too much.
Obviously we need an independent review or study to determine the truth. Each side has studies supporting its particular view. The petroleum industry has been pushing for such an independent study but the auto industry has balked. I wonder why that would be. Why has the Minister of the Environment not proposed an independent study? A number of reasons come to mind.
One reason might be the power of the auto industry in southern Ontario, a veritable Liberal stronghold. Maybe she does not think we need an independent study because she only believes the studies by the auto industry and not the ones by the petroleum producers.
Before putting this ban in place, the Minister of the Environment must act responsibly and commission an independent investigation into the environmental effects of MMT and its use in cars. This must include pollutants such as the expected increase in sulphur and other emissions at refineries and the increase in nitrogen oxide levels estimated at the equivalent of one million additional cars on the road.
Then it should look at the other side of the equation that might result from the removal of MMT, at the increase in airborne manganese levels, verification of a Health Canada study which indicated there was not a health risk linked to MMT use, the failure of emission control systems and the overall failure rate. Car manufacturers have not provided such numbers to my knowledge.
When all these factors are considered perhaps the government could make a rational decision based on hard evidence rather than just cave in to the auto industry and the jobs and votes they represent in Liberal ridings.
The main objective of the car companies appears to be to standardize fuels in North America. They could not care less about pollution or emissions in Canada. Because they cannot change the American market, they will get their wish by coercing the Canadian government. Do we not have a right to our own standards in this country? Why should any industry be able to dictate terms to us?
In conclusion, the Minister of the Environment by passing this bill to block the interprovincial trade of MMT is not acting in the best interests of the Canadian people. If there are significant health risks and pollution problems associated with the use of MMT, I would be the first to stand behind her, back her up and support her. However she refuses to conduct an independent study.
A reduction in nitrogen oxide levels for every car may far outstrip any potential pollution from a few failed OBD systems. It is time the minister starts acting like the Minister of the Environment for Canada, not the minister of the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association.
The minister should do the right thing and order an independent study.