Like the majority of people who live in Oshawa, Ontario, I oppose the building of an ethanol plant on our lakeshore. So does the city government. However, it is not simply NIMBYism which motivates my opposition. No one should have an ethanol plant in their community, particularly not on the lakeshore, and mere feet from the city's largest park and public swimming area.
Ethanol is not "green," it is not an environmental solution to anything. This is particularly true of corn-based ethanol. As National Geographicpointed out in 2006, corn-based ethanol produces only slightly more energy than it takes to produce it. Ethanol plants also have a serious environmental impact on the areas where they are operated, though no environmental impact study was done in the case of Farmtech's proposed Oshawa plant.
In addition to the negative environmental impacts, ethanol creates another problem. It contributes to increasing food prices and food shortages. Recently the United Nations urged the United States to suspend ethanol production to fend off a looming food crisis. With most of U.S. croplands experiencing serious drought and Ontario's corn crop in jeopardy, increasing ethanol production has to potential to drive up food prices without reducing energy consumption or greenhouse gasses. Those food prices increases, by the way, extend far beyond corn.
Clearly the public costs of ethanol production is too great to justify the 50 permanent jobs that the plant is supposed to create.
That is not the only problem with the proposed plant though. The other problem is obvious cronyism. The decision to build the plant was made, behind closed doors, by Conservative Party members, for the benefit of Conservative Party donors with the Oshawa public and the Oshawa city council in opposition. In 2011, Oshawa-Whitby MP Jim Flaherty said that the decision on whether or not to approve the plant was between the city and the port authority. However, five months later Flaherty himself chose, Gary Valcour, the president of Flaherty's own Oshawa-Whitby riding association to head that port authority. That riding association also includes Tim O'Connor, brother of Dan O'Connor the president of Farmtech Energy Corporation, the company that applied to build the plant. Tim O'Connor is also a former board member of the board of directors of Farmtech and served as campaign director for Flaherty's wife, MPP Christine Elliott.
All charges of cronyism are, of course, dismissed out of hand by Flaherty and the Conservatives. According to Flaherty he was not involved in the decision to go ahead with the ethanol plant. Even if all of that is taken at face value though it does not mean that the federal government cannot intervene to stop the plant or, at the very least, demand a environmental assessment be done.
When they first came to power Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty and the Conservative Party of Canada promised to deliver power to the grass roots. They promised, never delivered, reforms that would put power back in the hands of ordinary people. However, in 2012, Jim Flaherty is willing to throw up his hands and claim impotence when the wishes and best interests of his constituents come directly into conflict with a branch of the federal government (a branch that is part of his portfolio).
He is willing to look the other way on a decision that compromises the safety and wellbeing of the people who elected him, when that same decision financially benefits personal friends. Under the circumstances, it is safe, without a touch of cynicism to ask serious question and even to assume the worst until some reasonable answers are given or concrete actions are taken.