The Double Standard of Environmental Enforcement

One of the hypocrisies of modern environmental law is its double standard of enforcement: strict application to small entrepreneurs, and exemptions for politically powerful players like large industry and municipalities. This pattern can be seen in Canada as well as the United States. Kerry Freek, editor of Water Canada magazine, tells the story of one entrepreneur whose business is at risk because of Environment Canada’s double standard, in Deconstructing “Deleterious”:

Located near the mouth of Rivers Inlet, north of Port Hardy on the central coast of British Columbia, the floating Rivers Lodge is one of several that host sports fishing vacations. For six weeks each year, Pat Ardley and her two kids run the lodge, but it’s not an easy business. The economic downturn has forced at least nine nearby lodges to close, and Ardley fears that her lodge might be next. Despite financial turmoil, eager buyers are still on the market. Recently, Ardley received an offer to purchase her lodge, but the deal hangs in the balance for one major reason: wastewater.

Two years ago, Ardley and several of her colleagues received Environment Canada (EC) directives to treat their wastewater effluent to the standards required by Section 36.(3) of the Fisheries Act. Simple in theory, the section states that “no person shall deposit or permit the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish.” In short, it means that nobody has the right to pollute water.

In reality, not polluting is a near-impossible feat and that’s why regulations can exempt some parties from the rule. Over the years, a variety of industries, including pulp and paper and mining, have lobbied for and received federal exemptions that allow them to continue to do business, provided they adhere to specific effluent limits and monitoring practices.  Meanwhile, operations that do not fall under exemption, such as Ardley’s lodge, are fair game for Environment Canada inspectors.

The tale is yet one more example of the inevitable politicization of centralized environmental management regimes.  Read the rest of the story here.