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Environment best suited for Belco pollution probe, says minister

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Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said she passed over an inquiry into Belco pollution to Walter Roban because she only has powers to impose a one-off penalty of $2,500, but the home affairs minister can demand fines of $50,000 a day if an environmental problem is not fixed.

After widespread complaints that the Government is dragging its feet over the controversy, Ms Wilson insisted that the investigation into soot and other emissions from the power plant would be completed “as soon as possible”.

Asked if she had “passed the buck” when she switched the inquiry to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Ms Wilson said that she had acted because that was the arm of government best suited to the task.

Ms Wilson said that under the Public Health Act 1949 there is a provision referring to declaring a ”public nuisance”, but a penalty would amount to just $2,500.

The minister told a press conference yesterday: “The Clean Air Act 1991 was enacted to help address some of the shortcomings of the Public Health Act 1949 because under that Act the minister responsible has the power to issue an order.

“The Clean Air Act was designed to address situations such as emissions and so forth.

“There is an ability for the minister responsible for the environment to issue a particular order against a particular institution that is creating emissions, or soot and the like.

“In the absence of those issues being addressed, the minister has the power to issue a fine to the sum of $50,000 per day.

“Under the Clean Air Act the penalty for failure to address the issues that come under the order is $50,000 per day versus $2,500 period.”

Asked when the outcome of the DENR inquiry would be announced, Ms Wilson said: “These are discussions that have been ongoing for several weeks now and the minister, as well as myself, have committed to the residents of Pembroke our desires as a government to address these matters as expeditiously as possible.

“As I understand it … these are matters that are under his [Mr Roban’s] purview and he is expediting the review of these matters as soon as possible — recognising the overall importance to the residents that are impacted.”

The emissions have been plaguing the lives of residents with soot and iron deposits on their properties, including on roofs and in water tanks, and there have been high levels of harmful chemicals in the air — at least since the commissioning of the North Power Station in April 2020.

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Published April 25, 2023 at 7:51 am (Updated April 25, 2023 at 9:27 am)

Environment best suited for Belco pollution probe, says minister

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