N.S. lax on green-law policing, study finds |
Report urges more cash, training for environment inspectors
By MURRAY BREWSTER / The Canadian Press
The competency, training and funding of Nova Scotia's environment inspectors has
been called into question by a scathing new report that looks into how the
province handled repeated complaints about a Cape Breton sewage lagoon.
It is the second time in two years that an independent report has questioned
whether staff at the provincial Environment Department understand the laws
they're supposed to enforce.
"Staff we met was inadequately trained on technical and legal issues to deal
with this file effectively," said the latest study, which was handed to
Environment Minister Kerry Morash last week.
The review, prepared by two experts, said there is an "apparent lack of basic
understanding of the legal framework" among the inspectors who handled the
As well, there is a "limited understanding of the powers and protections" of the
provincial Environment Act, the report said.
Indeed, the important distinction between forcing a polluter to follow a
department order and asking for voluntary compliance also seemed lost on the
environment staff, the report says.
The study was authored by Meinhard Doelle of Dalhousie University, and Tom
Austin of ABL Environmental Consultants.
Morash, who said he had yet to read the report, defended his staff.
"We'll look at the report and look at improving," he said.
"We have good staff. I think we have excellent staff. There's always
opportunities for additional training."
A copy of the review, obtained by The Canadian Press, fired indirect criticism
at the Conservative government by suggesting the inspection branch is
Inspectors decide what to investigate based on the "time and resources required
to address issues, rather than an objective assessment" of the case and its
impact on the environment.
Morash asked for the study after residents in the Middle River area of Cape
Breton repeatedly complained in 2002 about an overflowing sewage lagoon that
contaminated a nearby brook, which some people used to supply drinking water.
The former owner of the operation pleaded guilty to charges under the
Environment Act in January 2004. George's Vacuum Services was fined $2,500.
In 2002, a report into a separate environmental controversy at Balzer's bog in
the Annapolis Valley also questioned whether inspectors understood and properly
applied the law.
At the time, former environment minister David Morse admitted there needed to be
more co-ordination among the province's 70 inspectors.
The Opposition New Democrats were alarmed by the latest report, saying it points
to the need for an overhaul of the Environment Department.
"Their No. 1 priority is supposed to be protecting our environment and our
health," said NDP environment critic Joan Massey.
"If people need better training and more resources, then you need to own up to
that. If you're spreading yourself too thin, then that needs to be admitted."