Why We Oppose the Building of the SE2 Power
An Interview with
Patricia Ross of Abbotsford, B.C.
by Monika Hausmann
Public Radio station KLCC shares this interview with West By Northwest.org
readers. In this issue the magazine celebrates the dynamic democracy of citizens'
struggles as the best antidote for fear and worry of mass terrorism. And we must
ask ourselves why the "power elite "keeps pushing these antiquated solutions,
technically and politically. Why aren't we using wind and solar power? KLCC News
Director Tripp Sommer and Reporter Monika Houseman explore the struggles in a town
on the border. Monika Hausmann (M.H.) is the interviewer. -Ed.
The British Columbia town of Abbotsford is just
across the border from Sumas, Washington, which is the site of a proposed 660-megawatt
Natural Gas fired power plant. Residents and officials of the Canadian town have
made sure they have a say in plans for the Sumas Energy Two, or SE2, plant. KLCC's
public radio journalist Monika Hausmann interviewed Abbotsford City Councilor, Patricia
Ross, who says Canadian will suffer most of the negative, effects from the plant…
Patricia Ross: "We're talking about three tons of toxins per day, in
one of the most polluted airsheds in Canada. Because of our particular topography,
it traps the pollutants. It keeps them in there, so they don't get dispersed as they
would in other areas. So it's the three tones of toxins per day into this airshed
that we're concerned about. They also want to tie into our power lines. They are
not allowed to put 230,000-volt power lines into Washington State, so they need to
tie into them in Canada. Unfortunately, we don't regulate against that here (in B.C.).
Their (Washington State) reasoning is due to health concerns. Normally we put that
high voltage into unpopulated areas. They want to put it through a residential and
business district. The effects to the aquifer, they're going to draw a million gallons
of water every day, from a shared aquifer, so those are our main concerns…(and)there's
a lot more to it than that.
"The site evaluation council in the States has been deliberating for quite a
while on whether or not they should be allowed to locate in that particular site.
EFSEC has recommended against it, for many, many various reasons. They're basically
saying, too, that SE2 is not going to be the answer to the energy crisis down there.
For one thing, they argued against having to build in the next five years, so it
couldn't possibly answer an energy crisis that's going on now. There are four power
plants that have already been approved by EFSEC to be built that haven't even been
built yet. So, that's part of our issue. Abbotsford, we've been the only Canadians
at the table throughout the process (note; British Columbia's recently elected Liberal
government has recently filed for 'intervenor' status, meaning it is now seeking
a seat at the table over the plant's siting). We weren't represented by Canada or
the Province. It was just us. We did a pretty darn good job, if I do say so myself
(laughs). So we participated in that. And (we participated in) the National Energy
Board hearings, which is the national body (Canadian) that will actually make the
decision as to whether or not they can put the power lines through Canada. Those
hearings were suspended due to the EFSEC recommendation. SE2 is now appealing the
decision of the EFSEC, and we are waiting for the decision, because they are apparently
coming to the table with 'let's make a deal'.
MH: Tell me what the City of Abbotsford has actually been doing to stop the
plant from going in?
Ross: "Like I said, we participated in the EFSEC hearings. That was a
lot of expense and time. We had to hire experts to come to the table there. We're
participating in the National Energy Board hearings. We've been helping the public
get a little more organized, because the public that we represent is very, very concerned
about this. I've never seen anything like this before. It's not just environmentalists
opposed to this. It's the business sector, the health sector, you name it, they're
opposed to it, and the National Energy Board alone has received thousands and thousands
of letters in opposition, which is unprecedented. At the EFSEC hearings as well,
letters of opposition have been unprecedented. They've never seen anything like this.
So, it's the National Energy Board, the EFSEC Hearings, any kind of lobbying we can
do to state our case, get that out to the public, we're doing that as we. We have
a history of co-operation with the Americans…this is not a Canadians against Americans
issue, this is a case of the average person trying to fight a large corporation that's
trying to force themselves on a community that clearly does not want it.
MH: I was reading a 'Province' (Newspaper) account where SE2 is saying it's
a public myth, that the airshed quality is not as bad (as it's made out to be). Do
you have a response to that?
Ross: Well sure, that's well documented that this is the second worst airshed
in Canada, and that's largely due to the topography. We get pollutants and the wind
flow. We get pollutants from the South, from the West, and our topography traps these
pollutants and it hangs in there. All of our doctors are saying they're seeing a
lot of people who are having health effects from the pollutants that are here already.
In fact, they did a survey. If SE2 goes in, 38 percent of our doctors are leaving,
they're leaving Abbotsford, and another 58 percent are considering it.
MH: So that has a whole different set of complications…
Ross: Oh yeah, and it's the residents that live here as well. I mean, they love living
here, we love Abbotsford and we're committed to making it a better place to live,
and to cleaning up our air pollutants already. SE2 will set us back decades. So these
people are just ready to throw their hands in the air and say 'we're out of here'.
We're going to lose half our town over this.
MH: Have you been getting much in the way of political support from the province
or federal government?
Ross: Ah, well…(Laughs)…that's a whole other story. Both SE2 and levels of
our own government, especially the federal government are telling us, 'well you better
clean up your own backyard'. So, they're obviously quite ignorant of what we are
already doing here. For one thing, we've got AirCare, people can not even get their
vehicle licensed unless they pass an AirCare test. And we've got something called
the Community Energy Plan, that we're working on where we reduce emissions throughout
the whole area in every sector. We've got an air quality initiatives group…There
are many, many programs that we've got to address our air quality problems, but to
add another pollutant of this magnitude, just sets us back decades and erases any
kind of work we could possibly do.
MH: What kind of political support is brewing right now for Abbotsford, for
Ross: Well, both the federal and provincial governments have stated their
opposition to SE2 in this particular location. However, we feel that actions speak
louder than words, and their actions have been very weak.
MH: And how much money has the City of Abbotsford already spent to try to
block this? (As of February, 2001)
Ross: Oh, I hate to even think about that. We're up to at least $300,000.00
now. And a lot of that is because we had to do the federal government's job. I mean
really, on an international issue, of such significant proportions, it was the federal
government's job to represent Canada in the EFSEC hearings. They didn't do that.
The only Canadians that came to the table were the City of Abbotsford, which is really
quite appalling when you think about it. We weren't even asking them to take a side
in the beginning. We were just asking them to be there, to represent Canada. Ask
the questions, do the research. They didn't do it.
MH: As far as Abbotsford goes, it's not, I mean I lived here for a while, it's
not exactly a town given over to public hearings or outcry over anything. Could you
talk about that…?
Ross: No…We're normally quite a conservative town. This overwhelming opposition
has just blown me away. I mean, you've got people that are business people, developers,
school board Trustees, that are threatening civil disobedience because they're so
frustrated. I mean, these aren't typical environmentalists. It's amazing the way
this has taken over the whole town and I think they're quite frustrated that they
don't want this thing. They're very concerned that the effects to us and the fact
that we're basically at the mercy of an American agency (EFSEC).
MH: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Ross: We're concerned not just with the health impacts of SE2, we're concerned
with the effects on our economy. SE2, one of the pollutants they will emit, is ammonia.
Ammonia is one of the substances that obstructs the view. And we already have high
levels of ammonia in the atmosphere. SE2 will put 272 tons of ammonia every year
into this particular airshed. So, it will obstruct the view; that's an affect to
tourism. It's obviously also an effect to tourism if the air's unhealthy and visitors
don't want to come because of that. There are effects to our agriculture industry,
because air pollutants have been proven to reduce crop production by up to 15 percent.
So, there's that perspective. There's the effect to our property value. There's concern
about that, whether we can sell our homes. So there's all kinds of economic impacts
of SE2 that we need to address as well.
You can hear this interview, and another with Sierra Legal Defense Fund attorney
Tim Howard who has worked on the case, by going to KLCC's website at www.klcc.org
click on 'programs' and 'Northwest Passage'. The dates the interviews aired were
August 7th and 8th, 2001. (editor's note - this interview's archive not posted
at this moment but still a great site to visit.)