Air pollution, greenhouse gases on the rise in Whistler 

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According to Cora Hallsworth, the project manager and a consultant with Vancouver-based The Sheltair Group, which worked on the management plan, the primary concern in Whistler is particulate matter, although ozone and greenhouse gases are also important. Particulate matter concentrations do spike from time to time, occasionally exceeding provincial safe levels. They can also be higher than recorded at the Chilliwack airport, which is often used as an example of poor air quality.

"As we know, Whistler is still a relatively clean airship, but what we’ve seen here is a case for actions. There have been spikes (in particulate matter) so preventative action is needed. The time is now to work on these things and that’s part of this integrated plan," said Hallsworth.

One of the actions the municipality would like to see taken is for Terasen Gas to build a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler, coinciding with the highway construction that is currently taking place. Natural gas burns cleaner than propane gas – propane gives off emissions similar to diesel – resulting in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter. Propane is a major source of energy in Whistler, used by many hotels and homes for heating.

"We can reduce diesel particulate matter by 90 per cent by switching from diesel to natural gas. We can reduce nitrogen oxides 66 per cent by switching from diesel to natural gas. B.C. Transit is looking at natural gas and hybrid vehicles, which would reduce our emissions even more," said Barnett. "A quantum step needs to take place."

Terasen Gas, which has limited propane storage facilities in Whistler, is currently reviewing the possibility of bringing a natural gas pipeline up from Squamish, and expects to reach a decision in the next month.

The municipality also looked into the possibility of regulating vehicles through the AirCare program used in the Lower Mainland, but rejected it because Whistler residents and organizations only account for a small percentage of vehicular emissions.

If all of the elements of the comprehensive plan are put into place, greenhouse gas will still increase 22 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020 as growth continues, according to Barnett.

"We recognize that a tourism-based community has greater challenges than other communities," said Barnett.

Steps are already being taken to reduce energy consumption, divert solid waste and expand transit in Whistler, and there are options on the table other than natural gas.

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