01 April 2011 ~ 2 Comments

Blowing Smoke

keep_calm1Headlines like “Gas plant plume poses ‘no threat’ “ and “Plant’s yellow plume no cause for alarm” about Halton Hills Generating Station emissions, as well as statements like “It was just scrap; Plenty of smoke, little danger” mentioned in Hamilton Spectator post are great at driving home one message: Keep Calm and Carry On.

But while it worked to raise the morale of the British during WWII, it’s far from putting me at ease. Really? “No cause for alarm?” “No concerns regarding environmental impact?” Thank you, Mr. spokesperson for the company (TransCanada) whose plant is worrying my neighbors enough to want to complain to the Ministry of the Environment. I appreciate that pollution may be within “normal limits”, but wouldn’t it be nice to know if it’s on the higher end of the norm, bordering the limit, or way way below what the industry average is?

Our tap water is probably within “normal limits”, but many of us choose to filter it first before we drink it. All food in grocery stores has to be up to health standards to “meet regulations”, but many choose to buy organic. Baby products almost certainly pass safety regulations, but we still research them, we read energy star ratings on appliances, look for car safety data – all to ensure our families consume only the “best”, according to your criteria.

smokestack1So why wouldn’t I care about emissions data for a plant only 3 minutes away from my home? Why wouldn’t I want to have a choice to drill into the data on the volume of chemicals that leave that smoke stack and enter my back yard, my home, my child’s lungs? Oh, I am no chemist, nor am I an environmental activist. I’m just a guy who likes to have an option to read the ingredients label to understand what I’m consuming, if I so choose!

That’s where Open Data becomes such a critical factor in building trust not only between the government and its citizens, but also between companies and their customers. Even though Environment Canada gathers and makes publically available pollution data in its NPRI database, its most recent data is 2 years old! That’s why I couldn’t find any data on the Halton Hills plant in EMITTER.CA, a site that visualizes NPRI data for any address in Canada. It’s because the Halton Hills plant began its commercial operations in 2010 according to Ontario Power Authority’s website.

This is bigger than the government regulations. It’s an opportunity for the company whose operations are causing concerns to step up and share the actual data for what’s being released in the air. Yes, TransCanada, here’s your chance to build a solid reputation with us, residents of Halton, who drive by your plant daily, wondering what and how much is being emitted from your stacks. I love your Public Safety and Awareness page and your Corporate Responsibility Reports, but how about the actual emissions data for your operations? Can we see that?

So, how about it, TransCanada? Put your money where your mouth is. Prove that there’s nothing to be worried about by opening your emissions data. Let us make up our mind based on the numbers, not your reassuring statements. Otherwise, it just seems like you’re blowing smoke.

Attributions: Keep Calm, Carry On: http://www.flickr.com/photos/croma/557971148/ Smoke Stack: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rentman1225/2529440721/in/photostream/
  • http://twitter.com/mattdance mattdance

    Nik. Nice. Good points about transparency and corporate social responsibility!

    Buts it is not just TransCanada. The Industrial heartland east of Edmonton, home to DOW, ESSO, and SHELL chemical plants and bituman upgraders, monitor and collect ambient AQ data, but do not SHARE it outside of their industrial association.

  • http://twitter.com/Nik_G Nik Garkusha

    This morning’s twitter news about Nike hiring an Open Data Fellow to help release its sustainability data is another example of corporations understanding the value of releasing Data in support of their Corporate Responsibility reports. Nike’s corporate social responsibility report published last year acknowledged that the working conditions in the factories where its trainers are made is a key sustainability issue.

    Similarly, energy companies need to get on the bandwagon and share their environment impact data (raw, unfiltered, machine-readable, open formats) for the public to consume.