The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has just notified the CEC Council, North America’s top environmental officials, and the USMCA/CUSMA Environment Committee, that it recommends developing a factual record to explore the effective enforcement of environmental laws regarding the discharge of wastewater from exhaust gas cleaning systems on vessels off the Pacific Coast of Canada.

The recommendation responds to a Submission on Enforcement Matters, SEM-23-007 (Vessel Pollution in Pacific Canada), under Chapter 24 of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (USMCA/CUSMA).

The Submitter asserts that exhaust gas cleaning systems (“scrubbers”) capture harmful pollutants, like nitrates, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, to comply with international air emission obligations for vessels, and that those pollutants are discharged into the marine environment as part of the seawater used to clean the exhaust and operate these systems, which is referred to as “washwater.”

The Submitter asserts that scrubbers discharge washwater that causes pollution to the marine environment and marine species, in violation of Canada’s commitment under the Fisheries Act to protect fish and fish habitat, which includes the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population and the ecologically sensitive Canadian and transnational waters of the Salish Sea, Kwakwaka’wakw Sea and Great Bear Sea.

The submission alleges that Canada is also failing to effectively enforce the Canada Shipping Act, and the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations to manage these washwater discharges.

In response to the submission, Canada informed the Secretariat of various enforcement activities conducted over the last 10 years, including 120 enforcement activities in relation to vessel pollution in the Pacific and Yukon Region since 2014. Specifically, there have been 14 inspections related to cruise ship discharges, including scrubber washwater, in the region from April 2023 to April 2024.

See also  The Dirt on Environmental Cleanup: Experience is Key

Canada also notes its efforts to monitor and address the potential impacts of increasing scrubber use, noting that the number of unique vessels operating in Canadian waters equipped with scrubbers increased from five per cent to 18 per cent from 2019 to 2022. Likewise, the amount of washwater being discharged off Canada’s Pacific Coast has increased, doubling from 44 million tons in 2019 to over 88 million tons in 2022. Canada provides data on the pollutants in the washwater and describes the potential impacts on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population stating that it “estimates that marine vessel scrubbers contribute between 40-98 % of the loading of priority contaminants within 300 m of SRKW critical habitat.”

The Secretariat finds that a factual record could consider whether scrubber washwater meets the definition of a “deleterious substance” under the Fisheries Act and provide information on enforcement of s. 36(3) with respect to discharges of scrubber washwater into waters frequented by fish. A factual record could also present information on the effects of scrubber washwater, including its pollutant components, on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population, Chinook salmon, and other fish species, as well as the marine environment in general.

The Secretariat finds that a factual record could explore whether scrubber washwater meets the definition of “pollutant” under the Shipping Act and enforcement of s. 187 with respect to scrubber washwater, including the use of measures like interim orders. Similarly, a factual record could provide information on enforcement of s. 132 of the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations, concerning discharge reporting.

See also  David Suzuki Foundation's Valentine's Day E-Cards Make a Difference

The CEC Council members will consider whether to instruct the Secretariat to prepare a factual record in accordance with USMCA/CUSMA Article 24.28(2). To learn more, please consult the registry page for the submission SEM-23-007 (Vessel Pollution in Pacific Canada).

Featured image credit: CEC


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here