The federal government is failing to enforce anti-pollution provisions of the federal Fisheries Act by allowing oilsands tailings ponds to leak contaminated materials into both surface waters and groundwater in the Athabasca watershed, says an environmental group.

A coalition of environmental organizations and citizens filed a citizens’ submission yesterday with the environmental side-body of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

“The federal government keeps saying it wants better environmental management in the tar sands, yet it is failing to enforce laws already on the books that could make this happen,” says Matt Price, policy director with Environmental Defence Canada. “If the Harper government is sincere, it will replace its tar sands public relations around the world with enforcement back at home.”

The citizens’ submission discusses cases where contaminated tailings leakage has reached surface waters in addition to the ongoing massive and increasing leakage from un-lined tar sands tailings ponds into the region’s groundwater. The Fisheries Act prohibits the discharge of substances harmful to fish, says the submission, yet the federal government has never prosecuted documented infractions nor has it enacted regulations that would permit the discharge.

The submission was filed by Environmental Defence Canada, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and three private citizens living downstream from the oilsands: John Rigney in Alberta, Don Deranger in Saskatchewan, and Daniel T’Seleie in the Northwest Territories. The CEC was established in 1994 by Canada, Mexico and the United States by the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.

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The submission is available here.

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