Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tar Sands Tailings Leakage Subject of NAFTA Complaint

Federal government failing to enforce fisheries law, submission alleges

A coalition of environmental organizations and citizens filed a citizens’ submission today with the environmental side-body of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The submission alleges that the Canadian government is failing to enforce the anti-pollution provisions of the federal Fisheries Act by allowing the tar sands tailings ponds to leak contaminated materials into both surface waters and groundwater in the Athabasca watershed.

“The federal government keeps saying it wants better environmental management in the tar sands, yet it is failing to enforce laws already on the books that could make this happen,” said Matt Price, Policy Director with Environmental Defence Canada. “If the Harper government is sincere, it will replace its tar sands public relations around the world with enforcement back at home.”

The citizens’ submission documents cases where contaminated tailings leakage has reached surface waters in addition to the ongoing massive and increasing leakage from un-lined tar sands tailings ponds into the region’s groundwater. The Fisheries Act prohibits the discharge of substances harmful to fish, yet the federal government has never prosecuted documented infractions nor has it enacted regulations that would permit the discharge.

“Big oil is getting away with polluting waters that flow all the way to the Arctic,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Senior Attorney with the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “In the meantime, Canada is pushing tar sands oil in the United States without disclosing the enormous potential for damage to North American waters.”

The submission was filed today by Environmental Defence Canada, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and three private citizens living downstream from the tar sands: John Rigney in Alberta, Don Deranger in Saskatchewan, and Daniel T'Seleie in the Northwest Territories. The CEC was established in 1994 by Canada, Mexico and the United States by the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.

“I live downstream from the tailings ponds, and not a day goes by that I don’t worry about what they are doing to the rivers and lakes where I hunt, fish and live,” said John Rigney, a citizen of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, and signatory to the submission. “When will the boosters of the tar sands learn that you can’t drink oil?”

The submission is available on the Environmental Defence Canada web site at

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