Metro halts grant for scientist who opposed incineration

By Jeff Nagel
BC Local News
April 27, 2010 12:00 PM
http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/92210779.html

Metro Vancouver has cut off funding for a UBC professor’s study of air quality in the Fraser Valley because he publicly criticized Metro’s push to build a new garbage incinerator.

Prof. Douw Steyn, an air pollution meteorologist, had sought continued Metro grant support for his team’s research into ozone levels in the Valley.

Metro air quality division manager Roger Quan told Steyn in an April 22 email that comments he made in presentations and attributed to him in the media “have not been well received by staff or elected officials at Metro Vancouver” and that his funding request would not be recommended for approval of the Metro board.

Quan cited a comment Steyn made to the Abbotsford News in October 2008 that “it’s a scandalously stupid thing for Metro Vancouver politicians to even consider building incinerators in this airshed.”

Fraser Valley regional district board chair Patricia Ross, who circulated the email, said the spectre of a scientist being punished for expressing such an opinion could intimidate and silence other researchers who depend on the regional district’s support.

“To punish someone and use the excuse they didn’t like their opinion on the solid waste management plan and the way they stated it is shocking,” she said.

She said Metro’s failure to tolerate differing views from academics calls into question its ability to deliver transparent and inclusive consultations on the waste plan, which goes to public hearings next month.

Ross said stakeholders and scientists must be free to express their opinions “without fear of reprisals or revenge.”

She called the email “the last straw” in a series of frustrations in dealing with Metro staff.

“We send information and they pretend they’ve never gotten it,” she said.

Ross has not yet directly confronted Metro about blocking the research grant, but said she felt it had to be made public.

“The only way to stop this type of behaviour is to shine a light on it,” she said.

Metro officials defended the decision Wednesday.

“I’m in no way punishing him,” Quan said. “I continue to have concerns about the bias and objectivity in his research.”

He said he could not at this time recommend using taxpayers’ money without having confidence in Steyn’s work.

“How is he able to reach his conclusion about the ’stupidity’ of adding incinerators before completing his research?” Quan asked.

Quan said he first confronted Steyn last fall on how he backs up his statements.

“He was very apologetic and indicated his comments were taken out of context. And then he went on to continue to make those kinds of comments.”

Metro last year gave $15,000 and had been expected to contribute the same amount this year – a fifth of the project’s budget of $150,000 over two years – to support the work by Steyn and three other researchers. Other funding contributors include the Fraser Valley Regional District and the Fraser Basin Council.

Quan said the research is worthwhile and Metro continues to sit with other government reps on a steering committee and looks forward to using the ultimate findings to search for ways to improve ozone levels.

Steyn said the work – which did not involve waste incinerator emissions – will still proceed, but he may have to scramble to find additional funding.

He said the research examines the improvements delivered by Metro’s “amazingly successful” air quality management plans over the last two decades and will advise on how to go beyond the “low-hanging fruit” and find new ways to reduce emissions.

Steyn said the preliminary findings also suggest Abbotsford and Chilliwack are in a worse position than 20 years ago because the pollution plume of the Lower Mainland has shifted eastward.

He said he has never before been penalized for his statements.

Steyn is continuing to speak out against the idea of building a new waste-to-energy plant to consume more garbage.

“Garbage is not a fuel and to say it is a green energy source is stretching credibility to breaking,” he said. “If you incinerate anything you end up treating the atmosphere like a sewer.”

Metro board chair Lois Jackson said she supports the decision to reject the funding request in light of Steyn’s “scathing” comments prior to the completion of the research.

“He should be apologizing or backing up what he’s saying with his finished study, which he can’t do,” she said. “It reflects poorly on every single senior politician at the board table, myself, the staff, the committees – everyone who has worked on this for such a long time.”

Jackson also said she’s disappointed with the “acidic” tone coming from the FVRD.

“People keep lobbing these bombs at us,” she said. “I’ve just about had enough of it."Metro Vancouver has cut off funding for a UBC professor’s study of air quality in the Fraser Valley because he publicly criticized Metro’s push to build a new garbage incinerator.

Prof. Douw Steyn, an air pollution meteorologist, had sought continued Metro grant support for his team’s research into ozone levels in the Valley.

Metro air quality division manager Roger Quan told Steyn in an April 22 email that comments he made in presentations and attributed to him in the media “have not been well received by staff or elected officials at Metro Vancouver” and that his funding request would not be recommended for approval of the Metro board.

Quan cited a comment Steyn made to the Abbotsford News in October 2008 that “it’s a scandalously stupid thing for Metro Vancouver politicians to even consider building incinerators in this airshed.”

Fraser Valley regional district board chair Patricia Ross, who circulated the email, said the spectre of a scientist being punished for expressing such an opinion could intimidate and silence other researchers who depend on the regional district’s support.

“To punish someone and use the excuse they didn’t like their opinion on the solid waste management plan and the way they stated it is shocking,” she said.

She said Metro’s failure to tolerate differing views from academics calls into question its ability to deliver transparent and inclusive consultations on the waste plan, which goes to public hearings next month.

Ross said stakeholders and scientists must be free to express their opinions “without fear of reprisals or revenge.”

She called the email “the last straw” in a series of frustrations in dealing with Metro staff.

“We send information and they pretend they’ve never gotten it,” she said.

Ross has not yet directly confronted Metro about blocking the research grant, but said she felt it had to be made public.

“The only way to stop this type of behaviour is to shine a light on it,” she said.

Metro officials defended the decision Wednesday.

“I’m in no way punishing him,” Quan said. “I continue to have concerns about the bias and objectivity in his research.”

He said he could not at this time recommend using taxpayers’ money without having confidence in Steyn’s work.

“How is he able to reach his conclusion about the ’stupidity’ of adding incinerators before completing his research?” Quan asked.

Quan said he first confronted Steyn last fall on how he backs up his statements.

“He was very apologetic and indicated his comments were taken out of context. And then he went on to continue to make those kinds of comments.”

Metro last year gave $15,000 and had been expected to contribute the same amount this year – a fifth of the project’s budget of $150,000 over two years – to support the work by Steyn and three other researchers. Other funding contributors include the Fraser Valley Regional District and the Fraser Basin Council.

Quan said the research is worthwhile and Metro continues to sit with other government reps on a steering committee and looks forward to using the ultimate findings to search for ways to improve ozone levels.

Steyn said the work – which did not involve waste incinerator emissions – will still proceed, but he may have to scramble to find additional funding.

He said the research examines the improvements delivered by Metro’s “amazingly successful” air quality management plans over the last two decades and will advise on how to go beyond the “low-hanging fruit” and find new ways to reduce emissions.

Steyn said the preliminary findings also suggest Abbotsford and Chilliwack are in a worse position than 20 years ago because the pollution plume of the Lower Mainland has shifted eastward.

He said he has never before been penalized for his statements.

Steyn is continuing to speak out against the idea of building a new waste-to-energy plant to consume more garbage.

“Garbage is not a fuel and to say it is a green energy source is stretching credibility to breaking,” he said. “If you incinerate anything you end up treating the atmosphere like a sewer.”

Metro board chair Lois Jackson said she supports the decision to reject the funding request in light of Steyn’s “scathing” comments prior to the completion of the research.

“He should be apologizing or backing up what he’s saying with his finished study, which he can’t do,” she said. “It reflects poorly on every single senior politician at the board table, myself, the staff, the committees – everyone who has worked on this for such a long time.”

Jackson also said she’s disappointed with the “acidic” tone coming from the FVRD.

“People keep lobbing these bombs at us,” she said. “I’ve just about had enough of it."