These two proposals to dramatically increase pollution in Brampton will hurt the city’s ability to meet its already weak climate targets
Brampton has been free falling when it comes to the fight against climate change. A city under leadership that has repeatedly prioritized budget cuts over investments into climate mitigation and adaptation measures, has failed to align its policies with its emissions reduction targets. Commitments made in 2019 when it declared a climate emergency are now being threatened by two proposals for expansions to energy and waste facilities.
The City’s Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Plan (CEERP) sets Brampton’s emissions reductions target at 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Compared to its neighbouring municipalities, Brampton is already falling behind — Mississauga is aiming to achieve an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 with the long-term goal of net zero, while the City of Toronto is pledging to reduce emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, 65 percent by 2030 and be net zero by 2040.
Alongside its weak targets, Brampton has taken little initiative on the environmental front.
“Since , it's not has not been well communicated to the public where we're at on those targets from a Peel perspective, but also with Peel dissolving how do those targets now change? I think an entire conversation needs to be had, and then have separate Brampton targets and then talk about how we are or are not meeting those,” Miranda Baksh, president of Peel’s Community Climate Council (CCC), told The Pointer. “So whether or not we're meeting them, which I'm assuming we're not because on a national level, we're not.”
In 2022, only 13 percent of the City’s $328-million capital budget was directly or indirectly supportive of climate change mitigation or adaptation efforts — with more money allocated for a single road — a previous investigation by The Pointer found. Environmental projects accounted for $41 million with $26 million set aside for future initiatives. The City of Mississauga, by comparison, dedicated 57 percent of its 2023 capital budget to climate action.
Even with the scant funds Brampton puts forward, there is little to no detail on how this money will translate into climate efforts. The Brampton Grow Green Environmental Master Plan (EMP), the City’s first comprehensive strategy focusing on sustainability and reducing the municipality’s footprint was released in 2014. The plan outlines ambitious goals for addressing a number of environmental concerns, by City Hall and the community.
But its first update in 2020 showed the City of Brampton was failing to reach the majority of its goals, with only 3 of 20 on target; it omitted key details on what went wrong, and how far the City still has to go, aside from referring to a number of educational campaigns.
Baksh said that while the CCC has had some support from a small number of councillors over recent years, much more needs to be done for sustainable initiatives across the city.
The recently released Emissions Inventory, an annual report from The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) tracking emissions across the GTHA, reported that emissions across Peel Region rose nine percent between 2021 and 2022; part of the sharp increase was likely due to recovery from the pandemic. While it was expected that emissions would rebound following dips during the COVID-19 health emergency, Bryan Purcell, vice president of policy and programs at TAF, told The Pointer the rebound was not expected to happen so quickly at such a high level.
The report also notes that while electricity consumption increased marginally (less than one percent), there was a nearly 25 percent increase in the carbon intensity of the provincial electricity grid. This increase directly correlates with Doug Ford’s PC government’s ramping up of natural gas production. While increasing natural gas generation anywhere in Ontario will have an impact on municipalities’ emissions, Brampton is home to the Goreway Power Station, which uses natural gas, creating significant challenges when trying to reduce the city’s total emissions.
The proposed expansion of the Goreway Power Station is the largest in over a decade.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In the face of emissions reduction targets and the City’s climate emergency declaration, Capital Power, the owner of the Goreway plant, went to Brampton council recently with a proposal for expansion to increase its electricity production by 40 megawatts to 875 annually, creating an additional 48,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. It presented a battery energy storage option, which Brampton decided on, as part of the expansion. But Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence, said he feels Brampton, just like Halton Hills, Thorold, and other municipalities with existing gas plants for electricity production, was blindsided by a proposal that was shaped with no municipal consultation.
“I think that upgrade took Brampton City Council off guard,” he told The Pointer.
While the Ford government has said no gas plant expansion will be approved if a municipality is opposed, that is not what happened with the Portland gas plant in Toronto. The PC government showed it, ultimately, can determine whether or not capacity for gas-powered electricity production will be expanded. Under the Ford government, officials and politicians have made clear that energy policy in Ontario will focus on natural gas to expand the capacity of our electricity grid — in 2017, oil and gas generation made up just 4 percent of the electricity grid; that increased to 10.4 percent in 2022.
Estimates from the Independent Electricity Systems Operator suggest it is expecting the province to rely on natural gas generation until at least 2030 — while loopholes in the federal Clean Energy Regulations suggest this could extend even further. Ontario once had one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world, following 2007 legislation to eliminate coal power (by 2014 there was no electricity produced from coal in the province) but this impressive green commitment is now being undone by Ford’s natural gas policy, making it difficult for communities to reach their emissions reduction targets.
Capital Power's proposed 40-megawatt expansion would include upgrades to its turbine with updated equipment. The company’s leaders say the upgrade is in response to the IESO’s warning that electricity demand will surpass supply in 2025, triggering the need for the plant to increase output by 4.5 percent.
In a September environmental review report, the power generation company suggested the expansion would be environmentally advantageous as the upgrades would allow it to operate more efficiently, supplying a greater sum of power per pollution output. But overall, even if the amount of emissions per unit of electricity produced decreases, the plant’s emissions will still increase 3.2 percent, to an average total of 1.4 million tonnes each year.
Natural gas generation is one of the largest sources of methane emissions. Methane is the main chemical compound of natural gas and is a greenhouse gas with 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide for 20 years after it is released into our atmosphere. Various studies suggest methane is responsible for 25 percent of the earth’s warming since its widespread use began in the industrial age.
In a June council meeting, Brampton Councillor Harkirat Singh addressed the potential impact of the Goreway expansion on the City’s emissions.
“From what I am hearing it is quite concerning… we have serious targets we have to hit,” he said, referencing concerns brought to him by a non-profit organization. “With this increase in capacity, it is going to be very difficult, almost impossible from what I am hearing, to reach our target.”
The councillor requested staff come back to council with a report on how the city’s emissions would be impacted. While Brampton still awaits the report, Brooks said he is unsure whether direct emissions from the plant would be added to Brampton’s total emissions or whether they would be added into province-wide calculations.
The Emerald Energy from Waste incinerator in Brampton’s Bramalea neighbourhood is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants across the city.
(Emerald Energy From Waste)
Less than 10 kilometres northeast from the Goreway gas plant sits another facility that environmental organizations have raised concerns about. Private company Emerald Energy From Waste has made a bid to the provincial government to allow its for-profit incineration facility in south Bramalea, one of the biggest in Canada, to expand to more than quadruple its current capacity.
While the incinerator is in the backyard of thousands of Bramptonians, many in the community are not aware it exists.
These facilities are billed as clean solutions to waste management, but research shows incinerators are heavily polluting, creating dangerous emissions, regardless of current technology designed to capture harmful chemicals before they enter the air after waste is burned.
“I personally have driven by the Emerald plant so many times throughout my life. I'm familiar with the area, and I never knew what it was,” Baksh said. “I think that would be the same experience for many Bramptonians just not knowing that it was even home to incinerators in the first place, let alone one that wants to expand.”
The Toronto Environmental Alliance has warned that waste incinerators produce “extremely toxic substances” that enter the soil as dioxins (compounds created as byproducts of highly toxic industrial chemicals) which are very dangerous to human health. Other toxins are released into the atmosphere, despite claims by companies that filtration systems can capture almost all of these microscopic particles. When burned, waste byproducts include nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, while plastic incineration can release volatile organic chemicals such as styrene and dioxins.
The United Nations Environmental Programme, citing a recent environmental science study by a group of researchers, reports that, “Dioxins settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually enter our food and hence our bodies. These dioxins are potentially lethal persistent organic pollutants that can cause cancer and disrupt thyroid and respiratory systems.
“Phthalates, the very chemicals that give plastic their desirable qualities—flexibility and softness—are endocrine disruptors, associated with a plethora of health problems, from fertility issues and neonatal impacts on babies to allergies and asthma.
“Burning of plastic waste increases the risk of heart disease, aggravates respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema and causes rashes, nausea or headaches, and damages the nervous system,” the study shows.
In her work with the Community Climate Council and Environmental Defence, Baksh said education and awareness about the proposed quadrupling of the Brampton incinerator’s capacity is where she feels organizations can be most valuable right now. Without community opposition, there is little chance a fight against the expansion could be won.
“I don't blame folks for not knowing, but I definitely blame people in power for not pushing it out there through public campaigns or advertising,” she said.
Incineration can include almost any material sent to a landfill including organic waste. Brooks said there is a high economic draw to incineration because waste, which often builds up with no benefit, can be transformed into fuel. But along with that comes high environmental costs.
“It's being touted as this energy efficient hydrogen producing plant,” Baksh said. “But hydrogen is really bad for the climate. And it's not a renewable source. It's actually what we call a false solution. So it's not a real solution to climate change. It's hard to conceptualize because you can't see it in the air.”
The Brampton facility, one of two located within the city, is currently approved to burn 200,000 tonnes of waste per year — just under a quarter of waste incinerated by all facilities across Canada. It processes 500 tonnes of waste daily, but with the expansion, Emerald Energy From Waste would increase this to 2,500 tonnes daily, burning up to 912,000 tonnes of waste per year, making it one of the largest incinerator facilities in North America.
“Incinerators are the most expensive and toxic way to deal with waste,” Emily Alfred, senior waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance, stated in a press release. “They are dirty and greedy—constantly needing a source of waste for years on end to cover their massive cost.”
Under new Ontario regulations, there is no need for the project to undergo a full environmental assessment. Emerald Energy From Waste would be responsible for conducting its own assessment and submitting documents before it can operate, under a process that is unclear regarding the required public oversight to ensure residents are not harmed as a result of the pollution created by burning waste.
Despite the lack of regulations around environmental assessments and licensing requirements, incinerators are known to be an energy intensive process, requiring large amounts of fossil fuels to operate. Studies also show that incinerators have been found to emit more greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic air pollutants per unit of electricity produced than a natural gas plant.
Baksh said she is surprised an expansion would even be considered.
“It doesn't seem like the path forward. It doesn't seem like the direction that we should be heading, thinking about all of the innovation and technology that we have to do so much better. It's just not the solution that anyone would think that we'd be supporting.”
Brooks said, depending on how the emissions from the two projects are calculated, it is unlikely Brampton will be able to reach its emissions reduction targets if the expansions move forward.
“Adding new, large polluting point sources to municipalities is certainly going to trouble their goals around emissions reduction, no doubt about it.”
Meanwhile, Brampton continues to support other fossil fuel intensive projects like Highway 413.
Environmental organizations have put pressure on City Council to pass a motion to reject the proposal for the gas plant, but Mayor Patrick Brown has reportedly said the final decision lies with the province. There have been no discussions in the council chambers regarding the incinerator expansion.
Highways, gridlock and a heavy industrial presence all contribute to poor air quality in Brampton.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In addition to greenhouse gases, the Goreway Power Station and the Emerald incinerator are two of the three largest sources in the city of nitrogen oxide, a respiratory irritant that, even in small amounts, can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. Both facilities also emit fine particulate matter, which can have a range of negative impacts on human and animal health.
“You have the airport, you've got the 401, 407, the 410 and the 400, all going through Brampton,” Brooks said. “You got a lot of transportation related air pollution already there, too. So I think all of the cumulative effects of all this are not good air quality for the people of Brampton.”
Baksh is concerned about the lack of information from officials regarding each of the proposed expansions.
“It's not being well communicated to the public at all that they have a say in the process, or how bad the issue really is.”
“Why are we being chosen as the source of this?” she questioned, suggesting Brampton’s demographics might play a role. She used the United States as an example, where it is well documented that areas with large populations of visible minority residents, particularly African Americans, house a disproportionate number of polluting operations compared to areas that are predominately white.
“A lot of BIPOC, racialized communities are the ones where they choose to put plants like this, and so we are home to two of them, and it just doesn't seem fair at all, especially the fact that it's being hidden and swept under the rug.”
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