A local climate group says deceptive calculations are letting Hamilton and other Ontario municipalities falsely claim that their road construction projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to meet Canada’s climate change responsibilities. According to the Hamilton 350 Committee, the scheme overseen by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and Ottawa paints nearly $30 million a year in Hamilton spending as “environmental sustainable”.
Hamilton claims that using federal gas tax monies to repair roads and bridges reduces fossil fuel use. The citizens group examined the calculation method and found it “ignores most of the increased emissions generated by the construction, in favour of focusing on the far smaller reductions.” They believe that “city staff and councillors are unaware of the specific deceptive features of this program”, but “have also failed to examine its real outcomes.”
At issue is a federal grant that has provided Hamilton with nearly $200 million since its launch in 2005 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin. It is designated for “local environmentally sustainable infrastructure” to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change.
The 350 Committee found that over half of Hamilton’s share has been spent on road and bridge work while less than a third “has gone to environmental improvements” such as composting and recycling. A large chunk was even used to renovate city hall. Currently over 90 per cent is used for road and bridge work, and the remainder to purchase HSR buses.
Across the country, 39 per cent of gas tax spending is used for transit. Road work consumes 28 per cent, with 13 per cent going to water projects and 11 per cent to sewers. The federal website on the program reports that “in Canada’s six largest cities, almost 90 per cent of the funding goes toward public transit.”
The AMO–Ottawa agreement directs the monies to “Environmentally Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure Projects” defined as those that “improve the quality of the environment and contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, clean water, or clean air.” There is public reporting of how these outcomes are being achieved which uses an opaque formula to determine emission changes using information such as the length and width of the road work.
When the 350 Committee asked about the formula, city staff directed them to AMO who explained that the methodology assumes lowered emissions from vehicles using the smoother reconstructed roads and gives additional credit for using particular construction technologies that generate fewer emissions. But AMO acknowledged the methodology doesn’t measure factors that cause increased emissions such as the extraction and processing of asphalt and other materials, the actual construction activity, and resulting waste disposal.
The citizens group argues these almost certainly outweigh the alleged emission reductions and suggests that the road work increases traffic volume “attracted by a faster driving experience” and reduces transit use.
“A ‘before and after’ analysis such as these ones makes assumptions and omits certain variables which may affect the results,” AMO Policy Advisor Jay Paleja replied to the Committee. “However they do have their strengths. It means that measurement is possible and is predictable, efficient and consistent.”
The 350 Committee wants AMO to fix its methodology “to accurately reflect actual emission changes” and forbid large municipalities from using the monies for roads. It adds that city council should redirect the monies to transit and other environmentally helpful programs.
“By continuing to spend over 90 per cent of the funds on road and bridge projects, city council is cheating the gas tax program and cheating itself,” the group argues. “It is robbing Peter to pay Paul, creating the misleading impression that there are sufficient funds in the budget for roads and bridges.”V