NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 16, 2004

Canadians are concerned about the quality of the air they breathe, both indoors and out. However, as important as clean air is, so is a steady, reliable energy supply. Yet, Ontario's new liberal government is committed to shutting down the province's coal-fired power plants -- which supply one-third of the province's energy capacity -- by 2007.

The problem is particulate matter, which is soot less than 10 microns in diameter. PM10 is produced from coal-fired plants and is believed to be a threat to human health, says the Fraser Institute.

Recent data on particulate matter, however, shows this decision would reduce Canada's energy consumption to Third World levels. Furthermore, the threat just isn't there, says Fraser:

  • Total PM10 emissions in the United States were 75 percent lower in 1998 than they were in 1940.
  • Coal-fired power and industry plants in the United States produce 12 percent less PM10 than residential wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Natural sources of PM10 -- from forest fires, erosion and fugitive dust -- account for 62 percent of PM10 emissions in the United States.
  • The British Government recently concluded that, based on epidemiological evidence, air pollution is unlikely to cause asthma.

Additionally, a worldwide study from the World Bank revealed that in poor cities, where average annual income is less than $3,000, PM10 levels are much higher, indicating that economic growth is not the culprit of dirty air.

Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph notes that emissions are declining in North America and Europe, and that affluent countries can counteract pollutants with advanced technology, such as wet scrubbers.

Source: Ross McKitrick,"Particulates, Energy Consumption, & Affluence," Fraser Institute, April 2004; and "World Development Indicators 1998/1999," World Bank, September 1998.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues