May 23, 2005

CELA and colleagues urge more stringent provisions in Bill 133 to halt rise in spills

Industrial spills of pollutants to the environment are growing in number, volume and weight, according to data released by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), Environmental Defence and Sierra Legal Defence Fund. Reported spills from large industrial facilities increased in frequency by 13% from 2003 to 2004 and ranged in volume from less than one litre to more than 18,000,000 litres (equivalent to 900 tanker trucks). Not only has the number of spills from large industrial facilities risen, the average volume of a liquid industrial spill increased by 250% and the average weight of a solid industrial spill increased by about 400%.

The groups based their findings on Ministry of Environment (MOE) data from facilities subject to MISA (Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement) regulations. MISA facilities accounted for 84% and 97.9% of reported liquid spills by volume in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The average volume of liquid spills rose from approximately 15,000 litres to approximately 55,000 litres, while the average weight for solid spills increased from about 200 kilograms (kg) to over 1,000 kg. MOE figures also indicated a six-fold increase between 2003 and 2004 in the number of water treatment plant intake closures throughout Ontario due to spills from MISA facilities.

CELA et al reported the data earlier this month as Ontario's Bill 133, the Environmental Enforcement Statute Law Amendment Act, went to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly for public hearings. Bill 133 allows the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to impose stiff penalties against large companies causing spills.

It also unifies and clarifies the threshold as to when the MOE can impose a penalty and prosecute. Under existing provincial legislation, a prosecutor has to prove that environmental or public health harm is "likely" to occur. Bill 133 reduces the threshold so that it is sufficient if harm "may" occur.

The groups are calling for Bill 133 to be extended and strengthened, in order to enhance its effectiveness. They propose that:

*Section 18, which allows MOE officials to require facilities to develop and implement pollution prevention/reduction plans, be expanded. These plans should be mandatory for all facilities covered under the bill and expanded to mandate planning to reduce emissions and provide reporting on overall measures to prevent pollution.

*the Ministry of the Environment be required to provide annual reports on the operation of Bill 133 and on prosecutions.

*all settlement agreements (an agreement negotiated between a facility and the MOE after a penalty has been imposed) be made public.

*assurances be provided that the bill will be expanded to apply to other sectors (such as smaller facilities and the transportation sector), in a phased-in manner.

"This industrial spills problem has persisted for years and it is about time that government took decisive action," said CELA executive director Paul Muldoon. "Bill 133 is a positive step in the right direction."

"We expect a lot of opposition to the bill by those polluting companies that don't like the idea of a level playing field," said Rob Wright, managing lawyer for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. "The clearer thresholds for imposing penalties and making polluters pay are no threat to corporations that act responsibly," he stated.

More information is available from Paul Muldoon at CELA, 416/960-2284, ext 219; Rick Smith at Environmental Defence, 416/323-9521, ext 225; or Rob Wright at the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, 416/368-7533, ext. 31.

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