Ontario Liberals indefinitely postpone coal shut-down

Surprise, surprise. The Ontario Liberals announced Friday they were delaying—yet again—the closure of the provincial coal-fired generating plants. They are thereby violating the letter of one of their major election promises.

The opposition is scrambling to make hay out of “yet another broken Liberal promise” but in truth the government is sitting pretty. This is because they are discovering a way to re-frame the electricity-and-air-quality debate.

Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, no matter how legitimate the reasons for breaking it. The stage is now set for Round 2 of the coal wars. Can the McGuinty Liberals successfully paint their coal retreat in bright environmental green?

Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the opposition, the answer is yes. I said above that the Liberals had violated the letter of the coal promise. That’s true, but the spirit of the coal promise is what is important. And what was the spirit of the promise? Air quality. Getting rid of coal looked like the most direct way to achieve the Liberals’ air quality objectives.

But as I have shown in previous posts, it is possible to achieve massive emission reductions without closing a single coal plant. It all hinges on a renewed commitment to nuclear power.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the Liberals can develop—and sing in unison from—a new air quality songbook. Watch for major diplomatic exchanges between the energy and environment ministers.

Will the McGuinty Liberals be the first government in North America to move decisively on both air quality and Kyoto? As Churchill said, this isn’t the beginning of the end but it is the end of the beginning.

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