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NAFTA watchdog won't investigate tailings ponds

Environmental Defence isn’t surprised Canada voted against an investigation into tailings ponds management. The three North American Free Trade Agreement countries voted against an international probe into whether tailings ponds are leaking into rivers in the oilsands region.

“Study after study has shown that tar sands tailings ponds are leaking toxic chemicals, damaging rivers in northern Alberta and impacting the health of people who depend on those rivers for water and food,” states Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence. “The federal government needs to protect the health of people and rivers rather than tar sands polluters.”

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation is tasked with investigating whether countries are following their environmental laws. Canada argued there was a court case involving private citizens against tailings ponds and the rules state the commission can’t investigate at the same time.  This is outlined in the Council Resolution documents:

“In a letter dated 14 May 2014, Canada maintained that, based on court rules, the case referenced in its response was still pending, and that, accordingly, the submission process should be terminated pursuant to Guideline 9.6 of the SEM Guidelines and Article 14(3) of the Agreement.”

Three private citizens and two groups (including Environmental Defence) asked for the investigation. Canada and Mexico outvoted the U.S. 2-1. In it’s reasoning for the vote, the U.S. noted the groups’ arguments about documented cases of contamination. It sites incidents of “reaching or projected to reach surface waters in Jackpine Creek (from Shell), Beaver Creek (from Syncrude), McLean Creek (from Suncor) and the Athabasca River (from Suncor).”

Environmental Defence says it can go to the commission again to push for an investigation.