Citizen action leads to charges against major steelmaker

Hamilton steelmaker ArcelorMittal Dofasco will be in court next week as a result of thirteen charges laid by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for excessive black smoke from its stacks. The interesting aspect of this case is that the charges arose because of investigative work carried out by local citizens. The Ministry took action not because of complaints from citizens but because the citizens, with the assistance of local environmental groups, presented the Ministry with almost irrefutable evidence of the emissions of black smoke from the steel company stacks.

The community partnered with Environment Hamilton, a respected local environmental group, under a campaign known as Good Neighbour. The groups identified the emission sources (stacks) across the ArcelorMittal Dofasco site and, in addition to extensive information about the environmental regulation of air emissions from steel plants, provided an interactive map through which local citizens could effectively report evidence of black smoke from the steel plant’s stacks directly to the Ministry of the Environment.

The Environment Hamilton Good Neighbour initiative provides an example of the type of citizen action that is likely to become more common in the future. As governments reduce their environmental enforcement activity due to budget constraints and/or industry lobbying,  citizens and environmental groups will move into the activity space vacated by governments. These groups may, in many cases, become much more effective environmental investigators than environment ministries ever were! Industry needs to pay attention to the way social media and community groups are observing and reporting on their activities.

The Good Neighbour initiative has an excellent website at http://www.goodneighbourcampaign.ca/   ArcelorMittal Dofasco is not the only southern Ontario company currently being targeted by the Good Neighbour approach – the other two currently shown are Atlantic Packaging in Scarborough and Hamilton Specialty Bar in Hamilton. It must be emphasized that the first objective of the Good Neighbour campaign is not to encourage the Environment Ministry to lay charges but to encourage the industrial company to become a good neighbour to local residents,  though there is obviously little reluctance to take the legalistic path if the residents feel that discussion and negotiation is not proving successful.

Especially good, in GallonDaily’s opinion, is the page http://www.goodneighbourcampaign.ca/resources_hamilton which provides lots of good information and tools for reporting episodes of black smoke from the Hamilton steelmaker’s stacks. The interactive map which identifies the stacks is part of Environment Hamilton’s Stackwatch initiative and is located at http://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&t=h&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=209481340099049307923.0004a4d3be53082d3f783

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