Last week, a Canadian Court gave the green light for the prosecution of a U.S. energy company. On January 16, 2008, the Superior Court of Justice in Sarnia, Ontario issued an order directing a lower court to summon DTE Energy to face charges for poisoning the St. Clair River with dangerous amounts of mercury. Michigan's DTE Energy Company is being charged for its role in polluting the St. Clair River with mercury. Scott Edwards, a Canadian citizen, filed charges last year alleging that DTE Energy's coal-fired energy complex on the banks of the St. Clair River has been violating Canada's Fisheries Act for two years. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Mark Mattson is aiding Edwards as the lead investigator in the case.
Detroit Edison, a wholly owned subsidiary of DTE, operates the St. Clair/Belle River coal-fired power plant complex in eastern Michigan. Monitoring data show that these facilities emit significant amounts of mercury each year, with more than half landing locally in Canada and the St. Clair watershed. When the mercury enters the St. Clair River, it spreads throughout the food chain, harmfully altering fish habitat and rendering fish unsafe for human consumption, which is a violation of Canadian fisheries law. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin; a single gram of mercury per year is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish are unsafe to eat.
Currently, both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the St. Clair are subject to highly restrictive fish consumption advisories because of elevated levels of mercury. Native populations along the Canadian side of the river have had their commercial fishing rights stripped away because of the devastating neurological effects on developing fetuses and young children that can result from eating mercury-contaminated fish.
Edwards launched the private prosecution in March of 2007. "DTE has acted with a blatant disregard for the health and welfare of Canadian citizens and Canadian law," states Edwards. "My hope is that this prosecution will result in significant reductions in DTE Energy's mercury emissions and a cleaner and safer St. Clair River." Private prosecutions allow any Canadian citizen to independently prosecute offences in the criminal courts, and potential fines under the Fisheries Act can be up to $1-million a day.
"What makes this even more egregious," adds Edwards, "is that DTE could stop poisoning local residents with mercury tomorrow if it wanted to." A U.S Department of Energy-sponsored test of pollution control technology in 2004 reduced mercury emissions at the St. Clair plant by 94%. At the conclusion of the 30-day test, DTE Energy stopped using the mercury control technology and today continues its mercury emissions unabated.
On this week's Living At the Barricades, co-hosts Mark Mattson and Krystyn Tully explain what the summons means and the implications for protecting international waterways.
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More information: www.waterkeeper.ca/dte