A University of Windsor professor says it’s difficult to predict the outcome of Environmental Protection Act charges laid against Ontario’s environment minister, ministry staff, as well as three wind energy companies operating in Chatham-Kent.
Lydia Miljan, an associate professor of political science, said the situation is complicated by the fact that the government is effectively suing itself.
“It’s hard to predict how the [Ontario Progressive Conservative government is] going to respond to it,” said Miljan.
“It might be an easy way for them to get out of it by simply saying ‘Yeah, you’re right, we agree with you and we’re going to stop these turbines or we’re going to decommission them’ … and then blame the previous government.”
The charges stem from Chatham-Kent residents concerned about the harm that allegedly came as a result of pile-driving work done when installing wind turbines in the region.
Residents and concerned citizens’ groups previously expressed frustration that government was ignoring their concerns.
“It’s a novel way to get the government’s attention,” said Miljan.
According to Miljan, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of the possible if Ontario’s attorney general stepped in to take over the case.
“Really, it’s the job of the attorney general to advocate for and to … file complaints about charges of anyone contravening the Environmental Protection Act,” she said. “I think that’s one of the tools that [the government] would have at their disposal, to simply say this really is something that the attorney general should take control over.”
Since coming into power in 2018, the Ontario PC party under premier Doug Ford have taken a number of steps to roll back previous administrations’ environmental efforts.
The government cancelled the province’s cap-and-trade climate plan; attempted to fight the federal carbon tax in court; eliminated the office of the environmental commissioner of Ontario; and reduced funding to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Were the government to side with the complainants, Miljan said the Ontario PCs could “score some critical points … that they’re listening to the concerns of people who are being harmed by this new technology.”
Nonetheless, Miljan pointed out the government risks anti-environment criticism regardless of their action in this case.
“If they don’t side with wind turbine manufacturers, then they’re seen as being anti-environment. And if they do side with them, they’re seen as anti-environment,” said Miljan. “This is one of those no win situations.”
Ontario labour minister Monte McNaughton previously launched on July 19 an independent investigation to determine if water from private wells in Chatham-Kent is safe for consumption.
Leading the investigation is a panel of five independent experts, including a geologist, two toxicology experts, an environmental health scientist and an epidemiologist.
“They may be able to prove that, in fact, there is no damage caused by these turbines,” said Miljan. “None of [the complainants’] claims [have been tested in court]. So, they could just say, ‘Let’s just see what the data actually up with.”
Miljan added it’s difficult for private citizens to successfully sue government for a lack of due diligence when it comes to the environment.
“If that was a successful route, we’d have a much cleaner environment, because governments would be more accountable to the courts in terms of their protection of the environment,” she said. “But all this stuff hasn’t been the case in the past.”
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