CANADA: Ontario’s environment budget cut while water pollution rises

Wastewater pollution violations in Ontario tripled between 1996 and 1998, while the province's government pursued a policy of protecting polluters from prosecution, according to a report.

Water pollution offences rose in the province from 1,000 in 1996 to over 3,000 in 1998, a report published by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund shows. In addition, the province’s Ministry of the Environment (MoE) budget was cut by 40% over the same period.

The report, Who’s Watching Our Waters, shows that 70% of 1998’s 167 polluting facilities were repeat offenders, 116 of them having violated the water pollution standards in the last five years. Sierra Legal add that almost half of the 1998 facilities were also on the 1997 list and that 10% of 1998 offenders have been breaking the law for five years running.

In addition, the number of facilities violating Ontario’s wastewater discharge laws is rising. In 1997, 134 facilities were reported to the MoE in 1996. This rose to 154 in 1997 and to 167 in 1998.

Sierra Legal accuses the MoE of doing nothing to curb the pollution and uphold its own laws. The MoE has refused to release the number of prosecutions of 1997 and 1998 wastewater discharge offences despite legal requests from Sierra Legal. The group knows that 1996’s 134 pollution violations resulted in only four prosecutions. The only prosecution the group is aware of in 1998 was profiled in an official MoE publication. None of the 166 other wastewater discharge offences appeared in subsequent issues.

“Sierra Legal Defence Fund has produced Who’s Watching Our Waters because the Government’s own 1998 report on wastewater discharge non-compliance is woefully inadequate,” said Elaine Macdonald, a scientist with Sierra Legal. “The MoE report simply lists the facilities and the type of pollution parameter exceeded, but says nothing about the number or extent of the violations. Our review of the data has revealed that many of the facilities had hundreds of violations of critical limits – including the law against discharging wastewater that kills fish.”

Sierra Legal also says MoE is granting polluting facilities immunity from further prosecution until they come into compliance. The group point to the province’s leading polluter, a medium sized chemical manufacturer that has been operating under such immunity for over two years while the company “studies the problem.”

“There has been a massive cut in the environmental department’s budget and enforcement of the law has been lax as a result,” MacDonald told edie. “We have a very pro-business government and it doesn’t want to enforce environmental laws because it’s bad for business. 40% of the DoE’s staff have been laid off and enforcement powers taken away as the Government becomes more centralised. The Government claims to be tough on environmental crime, but the facts don’t show that. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”

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