Cablegate: Meeting of U.S./Canada Air Quality Committee

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: The U.S./Canada Air Quality Committee met
December 2 in Ottawa to review air quality issues affecting
the two countries. The meeting included discussions of acid
rain, ozone, scientific cooperation and research,
consultations and notifications, particulate matter, marine
vessel emissions, border air quality projects, and health
science initiatives. The United States was represented by
officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the
Department of State, and Embassy ESTOFFs. Representing
Canada were officials from the ministries of Environment,
Health, Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs, as well as
provincial officials from British Columbia, Ontario, and
Quebec. Bilateral meetings on air quality have taken place
regularly since 1991, when the two countries signed the
U.S./Canada Air Quality Agreement. An Ozone Annex was added
to the Agreement in 2000, and negotiation of a Particulate
Matter Annex is under consideration. End summary.

Acid Rain

2. Both countries reported considerable progress in reducing
emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx),
the precursors of acid rain. The U.S. SO2 and NOx emissions
reduction programs were cited as major successes, with the
United States achieving emissions reductions well beyond
targets. There was a slight increase in SO2 emissions in
2003, as industry used "banked" allowances, but the overall
emissions trend will continue to be downward. U.S. SO2
emissions in 2003 were 38 percent below 1980 levels, and NOx
emissions in 2003 were 37 percent below 1990 levels.

3. Canada has also reduced SO2 and NOx emissions beyond the
national targets, although Canada's strategy is to pursue an
effects-based approach rather than the U.S. tradable
allowance system. SO2 emissions in Canada are down by 50
percent from 1980 levels. Environment Canada officials said
they are concerned, however, about tests showing increased
soil acidification in forests in Eastern Canada. The two
countries have prepared a joint proposal for an Acid Rain
Symposium at the meeting of the Ecological Society of America
(ESA) in October 2005 in Montreal, a venue which would
provide a broader forum for discussion and publication of

Ozone Annex Compliance

4. The United States and Canada signed the Ozone Annex to
the Air Quality Agreement in December 2000 to reduce NOx and
volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, the precursor
pollutants to ground-level ozone. The affected areas, a
transboundary region known as the Pollution Emission
Management Area, or PEMA, includes most of the U.S. midwest
and northeast and large portions of Ontario and Quebec. In
the United States, the NOx SIP (State Implementation Program)
Call requires affected states to ensure that NOx emissions do
not exceed specified seasonal levels. Reduction strategies
include implementing a cap and trade program for power plants
and large industrial boilers, motor vehicle standards and low
sulfur standards for fuels, as well as measures to address
VOC controls on smaller sources.

5. Canada reported that it will meet its commitment to cap
NOx emissions from power plants in Ontario and Quebec.
Representatives from Ontario said that fulfilling the
provincial government's pledge to close coal plants will
enable the province to achieve targeted NOx emissions
reductions, and that any new power plants in the province
must be at least as clean as natural gas facilities. The
government of Ontario is also considering a Renewable
Portfolio Standard, a requirement that a set percentage of
electricity come from renewable sources, for any power
imported into the province.

Scientific Cooperation and Research

6. In the last several years, joint air quality science
efforts have focused on particulate matter (PM). The United
States and Canada recently completed a joint transboundary
assessment report on PM, which may serve to guide future
discussions regarding a possible PM Annex to the Air Quality
Agreement (see paragraph 10). The two countries have also
made progress on developing emission inventories, as well as
coordination of research and development of protocols and
formats for sharing of data.

Consultations and Notifications

7. Officials from Environment Canada expressed satisfaction
with notification protocols regarding transboundary issues,
citing the example of the Algoma Steel Mill Consultation
Group. The mill, located on the border in Sault Ste. Marie,
Ontario, is responsible for depositing pollutants on the U.S.
side, as well as having an affect on visibility in a National
Park on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The consultation group
provides an opportunity for stakeholders on both sides of the
border, including tribal governments, to address the problem
cooperatively. Similarly, the consultation process has
provided a framework for the United States to express its
concerns regarding a proposed petroleum coke gasification
power plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about 50 kilometers from
the U.S. border.

Particulate Matter

8. According to EPA officials, PM is now one of the highest
U.S. air quality priorities. There are significant health
effects from PM, and EPA expects that many areas of the
United States will be exceeding the National Ambient Air
Quality Standards for fine PM in 2004. The current U.S.
focus is on inorganic precursors of PM, such as sulfates.
Analysis of the pending U.S. proposal to further reduce fine
PM has shown that health benefits far outweigh the cost of
controlling PM.

9. Canadian officials said they are compiling database links
to track PM sources such as wood burning, cement and steel
manufacturing, and vehicle emissions. Canada is also
studying the contributions of agricultural ammonia to PM, and
officials said that this year's drastic culling of chickens
in British Columbia because of the Asian Bird Flu is serving
as the basis of a study to compare PM concentrations from
ammonia before and after the cull.

10. The two countries agreed to hold an informal meeting
before September 2005 to identify issues of common interest
regarding PM, including steps towards consideration of a PM
Annex to the Air Quality Agreement.

Marine Vessel Emissions

11. Both the United States and Canada cited the need to
institute stricter emissions standards for large marine
vessels. The problem is evident in the Georgia Basin/Puget
Sound area, where both Seattle and Vancouver operate
competitive port facilities as well as large fleets of
passenger ferries. According to Canadian officials, a 2000
study showed marine vessels contributing to 33 percent of SO2
and 22 percent of NOx emissions in the lower Fraser Valley,
where Vancouver is located.

Border Air Quality Strategy Pilot Projects

12. The United States and Canada are currently conducting
three pilot projects under the Border Air Quality Strategy
announced in June 2003. The projects include the U.S.-Canada
Emissions Trading Feasibility Study, the Georgia Basin-Puget
Sound International Airshed Strategy, and the Great Lakes
Basin Airshed Management Framework. The latter has focused
on the Detroit-Windsor area, with a U.S./Canada steering
committee and four subgroups addressing airshed
characterization, policy needs, voluntary early actions, and
outreach/communications. Both the United States and Canada
are conducting joint air quality modeling, sharing data, and
looking at the feasibility of transboundary emissions
trading. For the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound project,
activities currently center on conducting airshed
characterization of ozone, PM, and visibility patterns.

Health Science Initiatives

13. Officials on both sides acknowledged significant gaps in
the understanding of health effects of specific types of air
pollution, especially PM. Canada is conducting a study in
Windsor, Ontario, on the effects of PM on children, while the
United States is conducting a complementary study in Detroit,
just across the border.

Next Steps

14. In addition to preliminary discussions in September 2005
regarding a PM Annex and the possibility of an Acid Rain
Symposium in October 2005, the two countries tentatively
agreed to hold next year's Air Quality Committee meeting the
week of November 9 in Washington. The Committee also
accepted the recently released 2004 Air Quality Agreement
Progress Report, which may be accessed at /html.

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