By Conor Mihell

The legalities surrounding cross-border pollution have always been murky, but legal clarity may be forthcoming as a result of a case now before the courts in Sarnia. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice summoned a Michigan-based energy company to face charges for contaminating the St. Clair River, which flows along the international border between Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair and contains dangerously high levels of mercury.

Last year, Canadian Scott Edwards filed charges alleging that two DTE Energy Company (DTE) coal-fired power plants on the Michigan side of the St. Clair River have been violating Canada’s Fisheries Act. Edwards, who is the legal director of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, says aerial surveys conducted by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper have shown that DTE’s generating stations fill the St. Clair River with more than 900 kilograms of mercury each year, 55 percent of which ends up in Canadian waters. Due to elevated mercury levels, the St. Clair River has been named an Area of Concern by the International Joint Commission and has the highest restrictions on fish consumption in the Great Lakes.

Under the Fisheries Act, DTE will be tried in criminal court and faces potential fines of up to $1 million per day of infraction. Mark Mattson, the prosecution’s lead investigator, says DTE had until May 26 to either challenge the jurisdictional grounds of the summons or make a plea and face the charges in provincial court.

Mark Carabetta, Ontario Nature’s conservation science manager, hopes that the Edwards v. DTE Energy case will broaden the scope of environmental regulations to account for international issues, including pollution and invasive species. “We are increasingly global in our economy and trade,” says Carabetta, “so it makes sense that environmental regulations should follow suit.”