Congratulations to Environmental Commissioners

by Dianne Saxe on January 9, 2012

I am late in congratulating both the Ontario and the federal Environmental Commissioners for their invaluable annual reports, and will try to look more closely at their findings as time permits.

The Ontario Commissioner emphasizes how much the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is doing with a steadily declining share of government revenues- now half what it was a generation ago. Environment Canada has also been slashed. Although the challenges continue to grow, with ever more evidence of the links between pollution and adverse effects on human health and the environment,  both Ministries of the Environment seem bound to shrink further in the face of Ontario and Canada’s massive deficits.

Nevertheless, morale among Ministry of the Environment staff seems to remain high- they know that their overall task is important, and has the Premier’s support. While some important things don’t get done, and the MOE response to citizen requests is often disappointing, the MOE is active on many important files.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I hear much less enthusiasm among federal environmental staff. Many of those who can retire, or find other jobs, seem to be doing so. Federal environmental enforcement (never robust by Ontario standards, although occasionally prone to making examples of the wrong people) has sagged again. My observations match the critical comments made by Commissioner Vaughan in his December 2011 report about current federal environmental enforcement:

“The second theme of this report is the enforcement of key federal laws and regulations intended to protect Canadians and the environment. We present the results of two audits: one on the transportation of dangerous products, and the other on the enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).

The government has established legislative and regulatory frameworks to protect human health and the environment. Transport Canada, the National Energy Board, and Environment Canada have programs intended to identify those who violate the law and have the authority to make violators take corrective action.

As discussed in Chapter 1, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 regulates the everyday shipment of goods considered to be dangerous if mishandled. It covers transport systems and substances regulated by Transport Canada, such as industrial acids and petroleum products. The National Energy Board Act governs the shipment of petroleum products through the roughly 71,000 kilometres of oil and gas pipelines that are regulated by the National Energy Board.

Weaknesses in the management practices of Transport Canada’s transportation of dangerous goods program are long-standing. An internal audit conducted in 2006 identified a number of weaknesses in management practices that have yet to be addressed. These include the need for a consistent approach to planning and carrying out Transport Canada’s enforcement activities.

The National Energy Board has developed a sound risk-based approach for monitoring the adherence of regulated companies to established regulations and standards. Of concern is that the Board has yet to review many of the emergency response procedures manuals submitted by regulated companies.

In Chapter 3, Enforcing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, we examined the enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and 45 of its 53 regulations that govern a wide variety of substances and activities in the Canadian economy—from hazardous wastes to contaminated fuels, asbestos, and the disposal of waste at sea. CEPA 1999 is enforced by Environment Canada.

We found that Environment Canada’s enforcement program is not well managed to adequately enforce compliance with CEPA 1999. The Department’s ability to adequately manage the enforcement program is limited by an incomplete knowledge of the regulated community. We noted that some of the regulations are not enforced at all due to a lack of training for enforcement officers or inadequate laboratory tests.

I am concerned that these three organizations have not been diligent in verifying that regulated companies have taken action to correct identified instances of non-compliance.”

All of these problems seem likely to worsen as further budget cuts bite. Am I too pessimistic? Please comment and tell me why.

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