The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is intended to facilitate trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Parts of the Preamble state that the governments of the three nations resolve via the agreement to:

  • STRENGTHEN the special bonds of friendship and cooperation among their nations;
  • CONTRIBUTE to the harmonious development and expansion of world trade and provide a catalyst to broader international cooperation;
  • CREATE an expanded and secure market for the goods and services produced in their territories;
  • REDUCE distortions to trade;
  • ESTABLISH clear and mutually advantageous rules governing their trade;
  • ENSURE a predictable commercial framework for business planning and investment;
  • BUILD on their respective rights and obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other multilateral and bilateral instruments of cooperation;
  • ENHANCE the competitiveness of their firms in global markets;
  • FOSTER creativity and innovation, and promote trade in goods and services that are the subject of intellectual property rights;
  • CREATE new employment opportunities and improve working conditions and living standards in their respective territories;
  • UNDERTAKE each of the preceding in a manner consistent with environmental protection and conservation;
  • PRESERVE their flexibility to safeguard the public welfare;
  • PROMOTE sustainable development;
  • STRENGTHEN the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations; and
  • PROTECT, enhance and enforce basic workers' rights;

Now NAFTA is being put to creative use. Vito G. Gallo -- a Pennsylvania investor -- alleges in a notice filed with the Canadian federal government that the Ontario government's 2004 move to prohibit use of the Adams Mine in Northern Ontario as a landfill site was a form of expropriation. He has served notice that he intends to use provisions under NAFTA to sue Canada for $355.1-million. Gallo's Ontario company owns and controls the Adams Mine property, a former open-pit iron ore mine about 10 kilometres southeast of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, that was being developed as a landfill to receive Toronto garbage shipped by rail.

Gallo's filing alleges that government interference took place after Dalton McGuinty's Liberals came to power in Ontario. "In October, 2003, a new government was elected in Ontario. [It] . . . began taking the first of several steps to shut down the Adams Mine landfill site outright and put the enterprise out of business," the filing states. The McGuinty government reversed earlier environmental approvals by the province and a go-ahead that the previous Progressive Conservative cabinet gave the plan in August, 1998. The Ontario legislation forbade waste disposal at the mine and also revoked related environmental approvals and retroactively extinguished "any and all causes of action that the enterprise may have had against the Government of Ontario regarding the Adams Mine site for anything that may have occurred over the last 15 years."

Professor Robert Lee Aston in his fascinating book “Surface Mining Law and Reclamation by Landfilling” examines the history, the law, and the practice in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada of mining, landfilling, and using old mines as landfills. Just a half mile from my Huntington Beach home is an old gravel quarry developed in the early part of the twentieth century; in the fifties and sixties the quarry was filled with municipal solid waste; and in 2005 a new playing baseball field and sports complex was opened on the reclaimed site. Professor Aston does not describe that out of the way California site—he is a professor at the university of Missouri-Rolla—but the Gothard Street landfill proves his point that old mines can and should be filled with refuse if society is to get the minerals it needs and is to dispose of the garbage that every-day living generates.

Other interesting case histories on the use of mines for disposal and backfill reclamation include the following (many documents about the controversies they have caused may be found on the web): (1) Eagle Mountain in southern California where for many years proposals to fill the pit with refuse have been opposed by those who value the desert tortoise and nearby Joshua Tree; (2) upland disposal in one or more of the many gravel mine pits of the Azusa area of dredged contaminated marine sediments from the harbors of LA and Long Beach; and (3) the Mesquite mine in southern California that is to become the long-term landfill for Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

I am told, but have not confirmed, that Toronto sends its landfill waste across the border to the US. It would have stopped this cross-border waste transfer of waste had the Adams Mine landfill proceeded. Now talk of not in y backyard. The sad history of the Adams Mine includes politics, politics, and more politics. And a dose of environmentalism. Now it will define international law. Makes you wonder if there is a shortage of landfill space or simply a shortage of reason and logic. Certainly there is no shortage of mined out pits that could be put to productive use.