Rub­ber’s got to hit the road

Truro Daily News - - OPINION -

“And this time I mean it.” There’s one ex­am­ple of a hol­low threat. When it comes to gov­ern­men­tal stew­ard­ship, peo­ple have to de­mand more.

A re­port from June shows that Northern Pulp’s power boiler emis­sions of par­tic­u­lates ex­ceeded lim­its – for the third year in a row, as re­ported by CBC. That has peo­ple mon­i­tor­ing the mill’s per­for­mance ask­ing, quite jus­ti­fi­ably, just what sig­nif­i­cance is there in “reg­u­la­tions?” If there are no reper­cus­sions for not meet­ing lim­its, say crit­ics such as Matt Gun­ning of the Clean the Mill group, what good are they?

For its part, Northern Pulp is ex­press­ing dis­ap­point­ment and in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble con­trib­u­tors to the un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance of equip­ment.

And from the provin­cial gov­ern­ment – the En­vi­ron­ment De­part­ment has an in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der­way into the stack tests.

That all in­di­cates wheels turn­ing, but a lack of trac­tion.

We’ve had gov­ern­ments of three dif­fer­ent stripes in the driver’s seat in the lifetime of this mill, and all three have proven lax in en­forc­ing stan­dards.

But re­view the more re­cent past, and folks might re­mem­ber the ac­tiv­ity of the Clean the Mill group around the time of the 2013 provin­cial elec­tion, meet­ing with some top Lib­er­als who were champ­ing at the bit to form the next gov­ern­ment. They lis­tened to the group’s crit­i­cisms about Northern Pulp and swore a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment would en­force en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards at the mill.

It’s not a quick turn­around, granted, in an op­er­a­tion of that scale. We did grad­u­ally see equip­ment up­grades and cor­re­spond­ing im­prove­ment. But what is the pub­lic to make of this lat­est re­port?

And where are the teeth in the reg­u­la­tions? Where is the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment – when an elec­tion isn’t in the off­ing?

The more cyn­i­cal among us might note that nei­ther in 2013 nor in the elec­tion ear­lier this year did Pic­tou County vote in any Lib­eral mem­bers. Let us hope that’s not the prob­lem. If it is, then Nova Sco­tians in gen­eral have an even big­ger is­sue on their hands – as in how they are rep­re­sented in gov­ern­ment.

This is an in­dus­try that we rely on in Nova Sco­tia as a large em­ployer and eco­nomic player. But en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact is a crit­i­cal fac­tor.

When the com­pany ex­pe­ri­enced an ef­flu­ent leak in 2014, we fi­nally saw some re­solve to­ward es­tab­lish­ing a new treat­ment sys­tem and clean­ing up the old one at Boat Har­bour. But that came af­ter an ex­tended, peace­ful but per­sis­tent oc­cu­pa­tion of the area by mem­bers of Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tions. The oc­cu­pa­tion had ob­vi­ous reper­cus­sions on the op­er­a­tions of the mill – and that’s ap­par­ently what it took to get ac­tion.

Peo­ple need to ask some hard ques­tions, and keep ask­ing. What ex­actly are reg­u­la­tions sup­posed to do? Are they merely sug­ges­tions? If so, don’t count on them to work.

With cor­po­ra­tions, they carry more weight if they af­fect the bal­ance sheet. What does lack of ac­tion from gov­ern­ment say to the pub­lic that’s im­pacted? What does it say for the en­vi­ron­ment? What does it say for com­pa­nies that do con­sis­tently meet reg­u­la­tions and still thrive?

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