To the Editor:
For the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to make sense of the proposal by Northern Pulp to install an effluent pipe at the mouth of Pictou Harbour. As much as possible, I’m trying to have an open mind so I can understand what’s possible and what isn’t.
Some people are saying that we just need to recognize the importance of science in the regulatory process. This approach seems to make sense — but it also denies the more essential subject of history.
There are at least four major flaws to the current process that need to be addressed before any action should go forward:
First, we need to recognize that the environment is a resource that is shared by all of us and that there is a collective responsibility for its stewardship. Similarly, we collectively benefit from a sound local economy. There are so many overlaps between groups here that the development of a waste treatment process is one that should be undertaken through collaboration with operators in other affected industries and through discussion with neighboring communities. The current process includes ‘consultation’, but this is not the same as giving stakeholder groups a meaningful role in outcome.
Second, there are two different review processes that can be used — one is used in the context of a modification to an existing facility and one for a new facility. The government has chosen to use the review that applies to a modification. However, while the mill itself is obviously not new, the treatment process is dramatically different and is certainly new for this mill. A responsible approach would be to choose the more rigorous review for this new facility.
Third, there is an inherent conflict of interest. This new treatment process is the spawn of the Boat Harbour Act. The government has legislated that it will be financially liable to the Pictou Landing First Nation if a solution is not implemented by 2020. The government will be paying for many pieces of the new facility’s construction. It is not in the government’s interest to see the construction slowed down. Therefore it doesn’t make sense for Nova Scotia Environment to be the regulatory body overseeing compliance. That’s like asking my wife to give me a speeding ticket whenever she sees me going too fast. Most of the time, it’s not going to happen. For us to have confidence in the new facility, it should be reviewed by a third party — most likely by Environment Canada.
Finally, the accountability mechanisms are woefully insufficient and opaque. As residents of this area, we are the ones who suffer when there are problems at the mill. The ownership, represented by its board of directors, is the steward of the mill itself. We have the opportunity now to effect real change to make sure that the rules have teeth. There should be complete transparency as to what conditions will cause partial or complete shutdowns of production. Penalties for violation of the rules will only be effective if they have meaningful consequences and if they are consistently enforced.
It really should be possible to operate the mill with minimal impacts on the environment. It should be clear that the ability to keep a valuable piece of our economy active depends on being stringently responsible for our earth, air and water.