"Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, referring to the benefits of openness and transparency
Waterkeeper appeared before an Ontario government committee last Thursday in a last-ditch effort to save a powerful piece of environmental legislation.
Concern for Ontario's waterways has been heightened in recent weeks as industry lobbyists intensified their efforts to undermine Bill 133, the Environmental Enforcement Statute Law Amendment Act. The new law would create a code of conduct for industries operating in Ontario, requiring facilities that spill into public waterways to pay into a provincial fund to compensate downstream communities.
"There are 100 spills every day in Ontario. Bill 133 is a turning point in the battle to win back our lakes and rivers," said Mark Mattson in Waterkeeper's press release. "Certain industry players want to protect the status quo. They want to be able to continue spilling into public waterways with impunity."
Waterkepeer's three-page submission is available online. An excerpt is below:
There are real casualties in this epidemic [of spills]. The people, who can no longer safely swim, drink, or fish in local waterways. The aquatic life and birds that rely on clean water for survival.
Bill 133 is about protecting communities, not about punishing polluters. It is the best possible remedy for the epidemic of spills. Pure and simple, Bill 133 is a code of conduct for business in Ontario. It is not criminal or quasi-criminal sanctions, which remain in the realm of the courts. This code of conduct ensures that companies that have been granted the privilege of using public waterways in their industrial processes can be disciplined for infractions by the professional regulating body, the Ministry of Environment.
The Bill 133 regime is akin to the codes of conduct that apply to professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and even hockey players. These professionals are accountable to both their codes of conduct and the general laws of the land.
Bill 133 provides a level of certainty and fairness that is currently missing in Ontario. Business and communities will all understand what the rules are and what the repercussions of a spill will be.
We understand that the business community is worried about Bill 133. Detractors say that it will not provide a deterrent. It does not need to - that is what other provisions in the Ontario Water Resources Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Fisheries Act are for. Bill 133 needs to help the casualties of spills.
Detractors say that Bill 133 will encourage cover-ups, that employees will be too afraid to report spills. This implies that employees are currently reporting spills out of the goodness of their own hearts. That is not true - reporting is required by law, and if it does not happen, charges can be laid. That does not change with Bill 133.
Detractors say that Bill 133 is a cash grab. That is not true. The real cash grab is polluters robbing communities of environmental rights and forcing taxpayers to clean up every time a company spills into public waterways. Bill 133 remedies this.
Detractors say that Bill 133 discriminates against business. This is not true. Businesses in Ontario have unique access to some of the world's most valued freshwater. This code of conduct simply ensures that this privilege is respected.
Once you get past the spin, it is clear that Ontarians need Bill 133. This is not punishment for industry. This has nothing to do with industry. Bill 133 provides security for communities affected by spills.