Nova Scotia court denies standing to environmental groups to challenge Minister’s project approval
HALIFAX/ TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE – Ecojustice, on behalf of our clients, is appealing a recent Court decision which denied our clients public interest standing in a case challenging the Nova Scotia Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’s approval of a highway realignment central to the proposed Goldboro LNG project.
Ecology Action Centre and the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), represented by Ecojustice, launched a judicial review in July 2021, challenging the approval for the rerouting of Highway 316 in Nova Scotia. The groups raised concerns about the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the project would enable as well as risks of environmental contamination due to abandoned gold mines in the area.
Both the Province and Pieridae (the company proposing to build Goldboro LNG and the highway realignment) have stated that the re-routing of Highway 316 is essential to the Goldboro LNG Project. A Judge denied the groups’ public interest standing in a decision released in April 2022 and stated that the issues before the Court were not serious.
Goldboro LNG is a proposed multi-billion-dollar liquefied natural gas project that would release 3.7 megatonnes of GHG emissions annually, crippling the province’s ability to meet key climate targets. The groups involved in the appeal say holding the government accountable for a transparent, comprehensive assessment of the impacts of carbon-intensive projects like Goldboro LNG, and infrastructure that enables them, should be considered in the public interest.
What is public interest standing?
Public interest standing is a vital tool that allows Canadians to hold our government and industry accountable for unlawful actions. Public interest standing allows interested individuals or groups who may not have a personal stake in an issue to bring forward a case on a matter of legitimate public interest.
Public interest cases are often those brought to protect the environment, human rights, civil liberties, or vulnerable members of society.
The groups involved in the appeal believe maintaining a broad scope for public interest standing is crucial to protecting access to justice in environmental cases in Nova Scotia.
The precedent set by this decision also has the potential to limit the ability of environmental groups to seek public interest standing in Nova Scotia and beyond for projects that may be deemed more ‘routine’ such as highway projects, since they are not viewed as having potentially broad environmental impacts. This also allows for project-splitting where fossil fuel infrastructure projects can have their components reviewed at different times without fully accounting for the overall project’s GHG emissions, as was the case with the realignment of Highway 316 receiving a separate assessment from the broader Goldboro LNG project.
The groups released the following statements:
James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, Lawyer, Ecojustice said:
“It is vital that the court upholds the ability for organizations and members of the public to hold their government accountable on matters of legitimate public interest. This includes consideration of GHG emissions in the assessment of all infrastructure enabling the expansion or introduction of new high-emitting fossil fuel projects like Goldboro LNG.
“For environmental law, there is often no person ‘directly affected’ – meaning Ecojustice’s clients must rely on public interest standing to bring our cases. Without public interest standing, government action (or inaction) that impacts our environment would be generally immunized from challenge.”
Maggy Burns, Executive Director, Ecology Action Centre said:
“This decision is deeply concerning. It sets a dangerous precedent that denies organizations and citizens a voice on critical issues of public interest and opens the door for components of a project to be reviewed without accounting for the impacts of the project as a whole.
Groups like the Ecology Action Centre require public interest standing in order to hold government accountable on decisions that could undermine our environment and our communities. Otherwise, our ability to act as a watchdog for the environment is severely limited, and in a climate emergency, that is a limitation we can’t afford.”
Jim Emberger, Spokesperson, New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, said:
“It is an unfortunate truth for our democracy that corporations and lobbyists enjoy greater access to governmental regulatory agencies, and greater influence on their decisions, than do ordinary citizens. The only check on this inequality is the ability of citizens to challenge regulatory decisions in courts of law. When that ability is denied, based on questionable and subjective assumptions that the concerns of plaintiffs – respected citizen groups – do not constitute serious public interests, then the role of the courts as a guarantor of equal treatment under the law is undermined.”