After three years, three legal processes, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, the Lafarge Alternative Fuels case is over. The Environmental Review Tribunal's recent decision to deny a cost award against the cement company was the final decision in the multi-year battle.
Back in 2006, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper started researching the environmental effects of burning tires at cement kilns. Not long after, Bath area residents, including our good friend and Trustee for Lake Ontario, Gord Downie, contacted us to express their concerns about one tire burning proposal in particular -- the Lafarge Alternative Fuels project was a proposal to burn tires, bone meal, plastics, and pellets made of domestic waste at the cement giant's plant in Bath, near Kingston.
Our first step was to contact Ontario's Ministry of the Environment. We exercised our rights to review the technical aspects of the project and to provide written comments and recommendations. In those comments, we pointed out that the Bath area already suffers from air quality problems. We suggested that new industrial proposals be carefully regulated, so they don't make things worse. On a legal level, we were also really concerned that Lafarge had been trying to navigate the regulatory process without participating in a public hearing - and that the Ministry of the Environment was helping them do it.
The potential environmental effects of the Lafarge Alternative Fuels Project were alarming. There were concerns about water quality issues and fish habitat, local air quality and human health. With so many different fuels - bone meal from animals, plastics, pellets made from household garbage, tires - it was never clear how much waste would be used or in what combination.
Our goal from the outset was the same as always - make sure that, whatever decision is made, Lake Ontario is protected. Make sure no more toxins are released into fish habitat. Make sure drinking water supplies are secure. Make sure that the natural interests in the Bath community are at least as respected as the industrial interests.
We thought we could share our concerns and recommendations with the Ministry of the Environment and that the project would be stopped or radically improved. The Ministry approved the project, though, and Waterkeeper, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, Clean Air Bath, and members of The Tragically Hip successfully appealed the licences to the Environmental Review Tribunal. Lafarge and the Ministry brought a legal review of our appeal, but they lost. When it came time for the Tribunal's review to begin, Lafarge cancelled the project altogether.
Waterkeeper was blessed to have legal assistance from the Canadian Environmental Law Association. There is no similar organization that provides citizens with free scientific expertise, though, so we had to commission our own. Waterkeeper alone spent more than $150,000 on expert assistance - and that was without the hearing ever truly starting! Other participants (such as Loyalist Environmental Coalition, represented by Ecojustice) also spent thousands of dollars on their witnesses.
Earlier this year, all parties asked the Environmental Review Tribunal to award costs against Lafarge. Basically we asked the Tribunal to discipline Lafarge for spending three years of our time preparing for a hearing that the company wasn't interested in attending. The Tribunal decided that everyone should be expected to pay their own way in a legal process like this. It's a decision that means Waterkeeper will have $150,000 less money available for public interest science this year.
That said, the decision not to award costs against Lafarge was the only decision that we failed to win throughout the course of the three-year battle. More importantly, Ontario's legal system upheld our right to participate in decision-making processes and to keep polluted communities safe from more pollution. These precedents will protect communities facing industrial pollution all across Ontario. These precedents are the true legacy of the Lafarge Alternative Fuels case.
Listen to Living at the Barricades.
After three years, three legal processes, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, the Lafarge Alternative Fuels case is officially over. Air and water in the Bath community will be better off for all our efforts. So will dozens of other communities right across Ontario. An end of an era. Dr. Henry S. Cole is our special guest on today's show. Dr. Cole explains how the Great Lakes can make air pollution problems worse for shoreline communities.
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