This Week on 'Living at the Barricades' hosts Mark Mattson and Krystyn Tully discuss the importance of hearings in environmental decision making and highlight key cases including the arduous path to the Lafarge Environmental Review Tribunal. LOW articling student Katie Tucker joins the show to speak about Waterkeeper's most recent submission to Ontario's Ministry of the Environment.
Thursday, October 25 2007 is "Issues Day" in a groundbreaking appeal of the Lafarge alternative fuels project. Clean Air Bath and counsel for the City of Kingston, Gordon Downie & Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Lafarge, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, the Ministry of the Environment and The Tragically Hip will appear before the Environmental Review Tribunal Thursday morning.
Residents and environmental groups are appealing the Ministry of the Environment's approvals for Lafarge to burn garbage pellets, tires, bone meal, and other waste in its cement kiln in Bath, Ontario. Issues Day determines what issues the Environmental Review Tribunal will hear about during the appeals process.
The Ministry of the Environment never officially denied our second request for a hearing - it simply issued the licences to Lafarge hours before the winter holidays in December 2006. Many organizations asked the Environmental Review Tribunal for permission to appeal the licences. Clean Air Bath, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, Gord Downie & Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and The Tragically Hip were successful.
Making it as far as Issues Day is a great success for the many citizens and professional environmental protection advocates who have dedicated years to this project. For the first time, science will take centre stage - lobbying, politicking, and public relations will no longer be the best way to influence decision-makers.
It was a long road to Issues Day. When Lafarge first asked to burn tires and other waste in its cement kiln in 2004, the Bath community objected and asked the province for an environmental assessment. The Ministry of the Environment denied their request. When Lafarge changed the project description and re-applied for air and waste disposal licences, Waterkeeper and others asked the Ministry of the Environment for a hearing.
Just days before the appeal was set to begin, Lafarge announced that it plans to challenge the Tribunal's decision in provincial court. For the time being, the appeal will continue while Lafarge's challenge makes its way through the courts.
For nearly four years, citizens struggled for a fair hearing process. We fought to get here because we truly believe this is the only process for figuring out what is true. That is, what the impacts on Bath's air and water truly will be and what steps must be taken to ensure the community is protected.
A hearing, by its very nature, is designed to get at the truth. Sworn testimony means that every witness must pledge to tell the truth. All evidence is cross-examined and undergoes the highest level of scrutiny and analysis. Experts testify, so rhetoric and zealousness are limited. There is full disclosure, so all relevant information is shared. And the hearings are public. Anyone can attend. Everyone can learn. The information considered by the decision-makers is seen by all.
This truth makes us better environmental protection professionals. It makes the residents of Bath and Lafarge better neighbours. It makes the Ministry of the Environment a better regulator. And it allows the Tribunal to be a wise decision-maker. This is an exciting time.