Substantive and procedural equity in environmental planning: A case example of planning thermal treatment facilities for municipal solid waste in the Province of Ontario, Canada
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Over the last few decades, thermal treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW) has been strongly opposed in North America. The reasons for public opposition are complex and could vary from community to community. Typically, public antagonism towards thermal treatment option is clearly revealed during the planning process of energy-from-waste facilities. Concepts such as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) have become synonymous with the siting of MSW thermal treatment facilities. Given the highly controversial nature of such projects, effective organization and conduct of the municipal planning process is of high importance. The literature suggests that public opposition can be fuelled by the perception of unfair outcome and unfair planning process. Therefore, the equity dimension of the planning process has gained importance. This research explores the planning processes surrounding the development of thermal treatment plants for MSW in the province of Ontario, Canada by focusing on the equity dimension. The research aims to reveal the role and the nature of substantive equity, procedural equity, and cost and time efficiency, as well as the role of contextual elements in planning processes. Additionally, the research intends to provide recommendations on the effective incorporation of the equity dimension into the waste management planning processes. Through a review of the literature on planning controversial facilities with a focus on waste disposal plants, it was revealed that the clear delineation of substantive and procedural equity as well as the identification of the main elements that fall under these notions are absent. Different studies present various elements of substantive and procedural equity, but they fall short in consolidation and analysis of linkages among the elements. In addition, it was revealed that the study of the contextual elements in relation to substantive and procedural equity has been quite limited. Three research questions were identified that were informed by two assumptions derived from the consulted literature. To answer the research questions, three cases of planning thermal treatment plants in Ontario were investigated using qualitative research methods. The first case studied the Halton region thermal treatment project that was initiated in 2006 but was soon dropped without reaching the stage of full environmental assessment. The second case study focused on the Niagara-Hamilton thermal treatment project that was a joint effort between the city of Hamilton and the regional municipality of Niagara to find a local solution to the waste problem. An environmental assessment was conducted; however, before its completion the parties decided to stop the project and concentrate on other waste management alternatives. Finally, the third case studied the Durham-York thermal treatment project that underwent a full environmental assessment process and is currently close to completion. This research contributes towards expanding the conceptual discourse about the role of equity in planning waste disposal facilities with a particular emphasis on thermal treatment plants. More specifically, the thesis contributes towards delineating the notions of substantive and procedural equity and distinguishing their elements. It introduces the notion of context and explores those contextual elements that influence substantive and procedural equity during planning processes for thermal treatment facilities. As a result, the thesis develops a comprehensive analytical framework that consolidates the major elements that fall under the domains of substantive equity, procedural equity, and context that have previously been dispersed in the literature. In addition, the research establishes linkages among the elements within each domain and across domains. Based on the findings of the case studies, the notion of distributional equity is reconsidered. Whereas the distributional aspect of the equity dimension is undoubtedly important, the thesis concludes that the substantive equity should go beyond the locational aspect of planning. The existence of cross-domain linkages and their importance and diversity confirms that the notion of equity should be studied and discussed in broader terms which acknowledge not only procedural or distributional issues, but also contextual elements and efficiency questions. The existing scholarship places particular emphasis on locational considerations (siting) and procedural issues; however, it fails to present a comprehensive and multidimensional view of equity and explain how this is embedded within the broader context. This research is an attempt to present equity with all its diversity and complexity and build a foundation upon which further work in this direction can be conducted. More broadly, this research contributes to the better understanding of the perceptions and motivations behind public opposition towards infrastructure projects, and particularly waste management facilities. Given the complex nature of public opposition phenomenon, the research addresses the need to build an in-depth understanding of public motivations and perceptions that shape attitudes towards proposed projects.