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.