Ontarians’ use of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) – to comment on Environmental Registry proposals, submit Applications for Review and Investigation, and seek permission to appeal government decisions – has resulted in many success stories over the years. Here are just a few examples in which the use of these tools contributed to improvements in environmental protection in Ontario.
Eliminating Restrictions on Outdoor Clotheslines
Andrew Moeser and Nalin Sahni were University of Toronto law students when they noticed that restrictive rules were preventing some homeowners from using outdoor clotheslines to dry their laundry – a simple energy-saving action. So in 2007, they submitted an Application for Review asking the Ministry of Energy to pass a new regulation that would make such restrictions invalid. The ministry agreed to their request and as a result, restrictive covenants and agreements that ban the use of outdoor clotheslines are now illegal.
Nudging an Asphalt Maker into Compliance
In May 2012, Lynda Lukasik and Don McLean noticed something curious: McAsphalt Industries, Canada’s largest asphalt maker, had begun operating an asphalt blending and storage facility in Hamilton even though it hadn’t yet obtained the air emissions approval required by law. So the pair submitted an Application for Investigation under the EBR on behalf of the non-profit organization Environment Hamilton. The Ministry of the Environment decided to conduct the investigation and found that the facility was indeed operating without a valid approval, violating the Environmental Protection Act. The ministry ordered the company to cease operations until an approval was issued, which ultimately included terms and conditions like installing equipment to control emissions. The ministry committed to monitoring and inspecting the facility.
Challenging the Approvals of a Cement Plant to Burn Tires, Bones and other Wastes
In 2006, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change issued approvals to Lafarge Canada Inc. to burn tires, bone meal, plastics and other wastes at its cement plant in Bath, west of Kingston. Concerned about potential air, water and human health impacts, in January 2007, members of the rock band The Tragically Hip and several environmental organizations (Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Clean Air Bath, and the Loyalist Environmental Coalition) sought – and won – the right to appeal the approvals. Lafarge, however, challenged the Environmental Review Tribunal’s decision to proceed to a hearing. The company and the ministry argued that the ministry’s decision to issue approvals was reasonable and did not require a consideration of its Statement of Environmental Values (SEV) – which includes such concepts as the precautionary principle and cumulative effects. The courts rejected these arguments.
Because these Ontarians exercised their environmental right to seek leave (permission) to appeal Lafarge’s approvals, in the end the cement plant did not go ahead with its plan to burn tires and other wastes as fuel. More importantly, the courts made clear that ministries must consider their SEVs when issuing approvals, permits and other instruments prescribed under the Environmental Bill of Rights.
Improvements to the Requirements for Source Protection Plans
When the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change consulted the public on proposed requirements for source protection plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006, 86 members of the public—including municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, private individuals and others—submitted comments. The ministry made numerous changes to the draft regulation as a result of the public’s input, including: clarifying the text of certain provisions; broadening the scope of policies that source protection committees may include in source protection plans; and enhancing provisions for consultation with First Nations communities.
Why Ontarians Use the Environmental Registry
“As a conservation scientist, I use the Environmental Registry to learn about and comment on government decision making concerning the environment. The Statement of Environmental Values for each ministry, in particular, offers a critical reminder of their responsibilities with regard to environmental sustainability and cumulative effects.”
Cheryl Chetkiewicz, Ontario Northern Boreal Landscape Leader, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.
“The Environmental Registry, backed by the research from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, is a critical tool to improve the broad public understanding of, and participation in, important environmental policy decisions affecting communities across the province.”
Terry Rees, Executive Director, Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations
Improving the Rehabilitation of Ontario’s Aggregate Pits and Quarries
Ric Holt and Ed James were frustrated that gravel, sand and stone pits and quarries were not being adequately rehabilitated in Ontario. They turned to the EBR and submitted an Application for Review on behalf of Gravel Watch (a non-profit environmental organization) requesting a review of the Aggregate Resources Act. The Ministry of Natural Resources agreed to the request, conducted a review, and concluded that there were indeed weaknesses in its oversight of aggregate rehabilitation. The ministry produced a report agreeing with Ric and Ed’s concerns and took various steps to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of rehabilitation.
Addressing Noise and Emissions from a Neighbouring Business
“In 2000, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) represented clients who were suffering serious health impacts caused by noise and particulate emissions from a business operation. Despite numerous complaints to municipal and provincial governments, the pollution continued unabated for almost 30 years. After CELA’s clients requested an investigation under the EBR, the Ministry of the Environment laid charges and the company was convicted and fined. This case highlights the profound and immediate impact that the EBR can have in ensuring prompt government action to prevent environmental harm.”
Ramani Nadarajah, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association
Application for Investigation Prompts Better Sewage Management in Provincial Parks
In February 2010, two applicants requested that the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) investigate alleged contraventions of multiple acts, regulations and approvals related to sewage works in Ontario’s provincial parks. The applicants alleged that Ontario Parks—a branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry responsible for administering and operating provincial parks—was failing to comply with requirements for basic maintenance of sewage works, discharging untreated sewage into the natural environment, and altering sewage works without appropriate approvals.
The MOECC agreed to undertake the requested investigation. In September 2010 it reported to the applicants on the outcome of the investigation, which comprised reviewing the application, ministry records, and operations at 12 provincial parks identified in the application, as well as conducting inspections at those parks. While the MOECC found that Ontario Parks has a comprehensive plan for reviewing the operations of its parks, including its sewage facilities the ministry identified several issues of non-compliance, some of which were related to the applicants’ allegations. The ministry nevertheless did not find “evidence of serious environmental impacts or immediate danger to public health and safety.”
As a result of the investigation, the MOECC instructed park staff to undertake actions to address issues of non-compliance by specified deadlines, and advised that a Provincial Officer would follow up to ensure timely compliance. The MOECC also encouraged park staff to undertake additional actions to enhance their current practices. Finally, MOE committed to providing the applicants with an update by March 2011 on progress made by Ontario Parks in fulfilling the required actions and recommendations. In April 2011, the MOECC wrote to the applicants to report that Ontario Parks had completed all of the work required to bring each park into compliance.
The MNRF shuts down the snapping turtle hunt
The end of the snapping turtle hunt is truly a success story that demonstrates how the public can use the tools of the EBR to better protect the environment by contributing to the government’s decision-making process. The public successfully used the EBR application for review process and the Environmental Registry to bring attention to this issue and ultimately change the ministry’s approach to managing this at-risk turtle.
Given the snapping turtles’ biology and sensitivity to external pressures, any hunting of mature snapping turtles is unwise. Since 2012, hunters have legally killed 85 snapping turtles. While this does not seem like a large amount, the loss of each one of these turtles can quickly and significantly reduce the local population from which they were removed. Therefore, protecting snapping turtles from hunting not only reduces the number of adults that are killed, it should also help to maintain turtle populations and increase the chances for local populations to recover from losses related to other threats, including habitat loss and road mortality.