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?