U.S. Energy Company to Face Prosecution For Cross-Border Pollution in Canada

A Canadian Court in Sarnia, Ontario, has given the green light for the prosecution of a U.S. energy company.

On Jan. 16, the Superior Court of Justice in Sarnia issued an order directing a lower court to summon DTE Energy to face charges for poisoning the St. Clair River with dangerous amounts of mercury. Michigan's DTE Energy Co. is being charged for its role in polluting the St. Clair River with mercury.

Scott Edwards, a Canadian citizen and legal director for Waterkeeper Alliance, an international coalition of 172 grassroots environmental groups, filed charges last year alleging that DTE Energy's coal-fired energy complex on the banks of the St. Clair River has been violating Canada's Fisheries Act for two years.

Detroit Edison, a wholly owned subsidiary of DTE, operates the St. Clair/Belle River coal-fired power plant complex in eastern Michigan. Monitoring data show that these facilities emit significant amounts of mercury each year, with more than half landing locally in Canada and the St. Clair watershed. When the mercury enters the St. Clair River, it spreads throughout the food chain, altering fish habitat and rendering fish unsafe for human consumption, which is a violation of Canadian fisheries law. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin; a single gram of mercury per year is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish are unsafe to eat.

Currently, both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the St. Clair are subject to highly restrictive fish consumption advisories because of elevated levels of mercury.

Private prosecutions allow any Canadian citizen to independently prosecute offenses in the criminal courts, and potential fines under the Fisheries Act can be up to $1-million a day.

A U.S Department of Energy-sponsored test of pollution control technology in 2004 reduced mercury emissions at the St. Clair plant by 94 percent, according to Edwards. At the conclusion of the 30-day test, DTE Energy stopped using the mercury control technology and today continues its mercury emissions unabated.

Edwards is being aided by three other affiliates of Waterkeeper Alliance, Mark Mattson, Doug Chapman and Doug Martz. Mattson is lead investigator at the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Martz is the St. Clair Channelkeeper. Chapman, the Fraser Riverkeeper, and Craig Parry, a criminal lawyer based in Ontario, are co-counsel.

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