A federal appeals court has given Alberta’s chief justice the green light to uphold an environmental justice measure that has sparked criticism and calls for its repeal.
The Alberta Court of Appeal said in a ruling Monday that the province’s Environmental Integrity Act (EIA) does not allow the provincial government to give special treatment to a company whose operations affect the environment.
In a separate case, the Alberta Court also upheld a 2015 ruling that said the provincial environment minister must consult with a company before granting an easement to build a gas-and-petroleum terminal.
In both cases, the court said Alberta has the power to regulate how the oil and gas industry operates.
The Alberta government said it was disappointed with the decision and has appealed the decision.
A federal judge earlier this month upheld a decision by Alberta’s environment minister to approve a new gas-fired power plant.
The province says the plant will not harm wildlife.
The case is Alberta v.
Enbridge Inc., 2017cv05959, Alberta Court, Calgary.
(The Canadian Press)Read moreThe Alberta EIA has a section that requires an environmental assessment before a developer can proceed with a project, but the minister is not required to consult with the developer before granting a permit.
“In this case, however, the minister’s obligation was to provide a general consultation on the EIA and to inform the developer of the potential impacts of the project, rather than the specific impact of a specific project,” wrote Chief Justice Michael Cote.
“That does not, in and of itself, make the minister immune from the law,” Cote wrote.
He added that it would be “a mistake to conclude that the minister has the same constitutional obligations as a court judge.”
“The Minister is acting as a government agency under the Environmental Protection Act and that means she has a duty to consult,” Cope wrote.
“She must be able to give the minister a full, fair, and complete opportunity to respond to all parties before issuing a permit.”
The federal appeals panel ruled in favour of the province.
“The province is entitled to expect a fair and accurate assessment of a company’s impact on the environment,” Corde said.
“To the extent that the Minister is unable to provide that, she is not entitled to the same level of scrutiny that judges are.”
Read more’Corporate welfare’: Justice in the oil sands”The government argues the EAA allows the minister to impose a special environmental impact assessment (EIIA) on the approval of a project and the minister must provide a clear and specific description of the impact of that project,” Alberta Environment Minister David MacNaughton said in an emailed statement.
“We welcome the court’s decision and look forward to providing a full and complete response in the coming weeks.”
The Alberta government also says the EIIA is meant to give a company “a fair and impartial assessment of the environmental impact of its proposed project,” not to give it special treatment.
“This is a common and legitimate purpose of the EIE,” MacNaughtons statement said.
“We recognize that the EIOA process can sometimes be difficult to administer and that it may not always be possible to get a clear picture of the full impact of an application.”
The case involves a proposed $12.8-billion gas-fuelled terminal at the northern tip of the Alberta oil sands.
The terminal, which is to be built by Enbridge Energy, would be a joint venture between the Alberta Energy Regulator and a company that owns land on the land the project would be built on.
A preliminary environmental assessment has been issued for the terminal, and the government expects to receive final approval by June, but critics say the province is not doing enough to protect the environment and is not properly overseeing the project.
The oil sands region has been the site of an epic battle between environmental groups and Enbridge.
In 2016, Enbridge and its Calgary-based parent company, Suncor Energy, were ordered to pay $1.6 billion in environmental fines for causing the collapse of an oil pipeline in the area.
In January, Encore filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the province over the project’s environmental impact statement, which said the gas-burning facility would not have an adverse impact on wildlife.
In its response, Encorp argued the environmental assessment process is “not designed to address all of the complex environmental issues raised by the project.”