Six court dates and numerous delays later, Hamilton's environmental activists say the outcome of air emission charges against ArcelorMittal Dofasco has left them disappointed and frustrated, despite the local steel company's guilty pleas and a $390,000 fine.
They say the case is unlikely to deter future emission violations and are calling for more efficient ways to deal with air pollution cases. The company says it is working to improve its performance, but local environmentalists say they continue to document emission problems similar to the ones that led to the province laying the 2013 charges.
Dofasco pleaded guilty on Monday to six out of 13 environmental charges related to its smokestacks emissions and was fined $65,000 per count. The company has 30 days to pay the total $390,000 plus victim fine surcharges of $97,500. The remaining seven charges were withdrawn.
- ArcelorMittal Dofasco fined after guilty pleas to 6 pollution charges
- ArcelorMittal Dofasco to spend $87M on coke plant upgrades
In a rare move, Ontario's Ministry of the Environment laid 13 charges in March of 2013 against the company for air emission violations at its coke-making plants between April and August 2012. The ministry alleged that the company exceeded visible emissions (opacity) levels set by the province.
In a press release on Monday after the guilty plea, the company said it has "committed to continuously improving its operating procedures and performance. At the same time, the company continues to invest in both repair and maintenance and capital improvements for the plants."
By Environment Hamilton co-founder Don McLean's count, Monday's court date was the sixth session since the company was slapped with the charges in March 2013.
"Nothing really happened in the first five," he told CBC Hamilton.
The case was settled after several delays, some of them happened when the ministry didn't meet deadlines to disclose evidence.
McLean added that some of the court dates were cancelled or re-scheduled without notice.
The ministry did not respond to requests for an interview on Monday.
And after waiting more than a year for the case to wind its way through the court system, McLean said he still didn't get the outcome he wants.
Expressing his disappointment in Monday's outcome, McLean said the ministry needs a more efficient way to handle similar cases.
For example, the ministry can apply the way it deals with water pollution violations — by issuing a ticket and fines —to air pollution cases.
"That would avoid this whole elongated court process," he said.
Pollution continues, activists say
While Hamilton's environment watchdogs awaited the result of the court case over the past year, according to McLean, residents continued to report emissions they found to be unacceptable. The most recent incidents were reported just a week before Monday's court date, McLean said.
Long-time air quality watchdog Lorna Moreau, who attended the court proceeding on Monday, said she was frustrated by the result.
“It's not getting any better,” she told CBC Hamilton. “It's money and profit over our health.”
A former resident of the McAnulty Boulevard neighbourhood of more than 30 years, Moreau said she had to move after developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a long-term lung disease. The smokestacks that spew "huge black billows of smoke" drove her out of the neighbourhood, she said.
Dofasco's lawyer pointed out the company has launched community drop-in sessions for residents to meet with “top-level company officials.” Moreau, a regular attendee, said she found them to be ineffective.
“If you go, they think we are in agreement, if you don't go, they think you are not complaining,” she told CBC Hamilton.
The company also has a community liaison committee of about 20 members that meets quarterly to discuss environmental issues. Moreau said her application to join the committee was denied.
ArcelorMittal Dofasco's representative turned down CBC Hamilton's interview request, but said the company reiterates what was in the statement released on Monday.
In the statement, the company pointed to a planed $87 million investment in major restorative work at its No. 2 and No. 3 coke-making plants over the next five years. It also announced in 2013 that it will phase out No. 1 coke plant by 2015.
But both McLean and Moreau said it is hardly good news.
Environment Hamilton's McLean said the 2015 deadline means "at least another year of more problems" from a plant that's "clearly past its due date." Moreau questioned why it takes the company two years to phase out a plant.
McLean added that he would like the fines to be used to address air pollution, instead of going into the city's general budget.