Court grants public interest standing to environmental groups in case related to Goldboro LNG
HALIFAX/ TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE – Environmental groups are celebrating a decision released yesterday by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal they say will help safeguard access to justice in environmental cases in the province. The ruling overturns a decision by a lower court that denied Ecology Action Centre and the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), represented by Ecojustice, public interest standing to challenge the provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s approval of a highway realignment central to the proposed Goldboro LNG (liquified natural gas) project.
Public interest standing is a vital tool that allows Canadians to hold our government and industry accountable for unlawful actions. For environmental law, there is often no person ‘directly affected’ by a decision or issue – meaning individuals or groups must rely on public interest standing to bring forward cases. Without public interest standing, government action (or inaction) that impacts our environment would be generally immunized from challenge.
The appeal focused on whether the issues raised in the application were serious, since that was the main reason the motions judge denied standing. The Court of Appeal found that both the issue of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change impacts and the issue of toxic contamination environmental impacts raised by the groups were serious, finding that the motions judge erred by considering the nature of the project (a highway) rather than the environmental impacts it caused. Underpinning this conclusion, the decision emphasized “the location or architecture (is not) the relevant target of analysis. We are dealing with the Environment Act. The focus should be on the environmental effect.”
The Court of Appeal’s decision means the groups can now move ahead with their case. The groups released the following statements in reaction to the victory:
James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, lawyer, Ecojustice said:
“Today’s decision is a major win not just for our clients, but for access to environmental justice in Nova Scotia. The availability of public interest standing in Nova Scotia had been considerably narrowed in recent years. This decision corrects course and ensures that members of the public can have their day in court and seek to hold their government and industry actors to account for unlawful actions. The decision also emphasizes that it is the environmental and climate impacts of a project that matter, not the nature of the project itself.”
Jim Emberger, spokesperson, New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance said:
“It would seem that issues of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and concerns about toxic mining pollution would, by definition, be ‘serious’, and that the public would naturally be entitled to reasons when governments decide to ignore those issues. It is too bad that it took a Court of Appeal to acknowledge these self-evident principles, but we are pleased that they did, and that we are now able to address the substance of these issues in court.”
Maggy Burns, executive director with the Ecology Action Centre said:
“The Court of Appeal’s decision is very welcome news. This project poses serious consequences for our communities and our climate. Providing the Ecology Action Centre and New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance with public interest standing allows us to hold government accountable on their decision. But this fight is far from over, and we can now turn our focus to addressing the true concerns of this project in court.”