In 1961, speaking about civil liberties, United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy said that high-minded laws and high-sounding rhetoric were meaningless unless people breathe meaning and force into them.
In 2005, thinking about the environment, his words still ring true. In the last thirty-five years, a generation of activists has built a movement by identifying gaps in environmental protection and lobbying for new law and policy.
Their hard works – and frequent successes – have paved the way for a new generation of environmentalists: enforcers. Powerful tools like the Clean Water Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act, won by the first wave of environmentalists, now need vigilant citizens to push for the enforcement of them.
In Ontario, one of the most ambitious efforts to curtail industrial pollution is the Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA). “MISA” is a dispassionate sounding name for a program that requires strict monitoring at industrialfacilities and mandatory reporting to the public. Through MISA, we know who is dumping what into our waterways and every Ontario citizen has the legal ability to reign in polluters.
The Ontario government introduced the MISA rules between 1993 and 1995.Their goal is the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances in the nine major industrial sectors in Ontario, including Iron and Steel Manufacturing. Ten years have passed since MISA rules were introduced. The reporting structure is in place. Now it is time to start tightening the noose on pollution.
In a study conducted by law students in 2004-2005, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper discovered that the MISA rules for steel plants granted four of the province’s large polluters permits to dump a combined total of up to 87.4 kg – almost 200 lbs – of lead into the Great Lakes in one day. Two of the plants are located in the same place – Hamilton Harbour, at the west end of Lake Ontario.
The permits are unseemly. Lead is widely considered one of the most toxic substances we can release into the environment. It is a probable human carcinogen that can result in developmental and reproductive problems in humans. There is no known “safe” level of exposure to lead.
After ten years, Waterkeeper thinks MISA can do better.We responded to the permits by filing a legal brief with the Ontario government, challenging them to update the MISA rules and move closer to the goal of virtual elimination.
Our challenge is just the tip of the iceberg. Using the MISA rules, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper can protect our lake by forcing every major industrial facility in the basin to start using the best treatment technology possible.
MISA, like the Clean Water Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, and the environmental rules still being drafted, is a tool. It is up to us – as Robert Kennedy reminds us – to wield them.