VANCOUVER — The Government of Canada’s endorsement of the Lower Churchill Generation Project is unlawful and will be challenged in the Federal Court, environmental groups said today.
Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc. and Sierra Club Canada — represented by Ecojustice lawyers — filed a judicial review application with the Federal Court in December, on grounds that the joint review panel’s environmental assessment was unlawful, incomplete and must go back to the panel before the mega-dam project is allowed to proceed.
The groups seek a court order that would block the federal government from issuing any permits or financial guarantees to Nalcor Energy, the project’s proponent, until the assessment is completed in full. They will also ask the Court to overturn the federal government’s endorsement.
“By deferring the assessment of need and alternatives to others, the panel dodged making any final recommendation to approve or reject the project,” said Lara Tessaro, Ecojustice staff lawyer.
“We want the panel to finish the job it was tasked to do, and until that happens, we believe the federal government does not have the legal right to support the project with permits or funding,” she added. “In our view, the federal government broke the law when it responded to the panel’s incomplete assessment.”
The Lower Churchill Project would see the construction of two large hydroelectric dams on the Grand River (also known as the Churchill River) in Labrador, including a dam at Muskrat Falls. It would lead to significant and long-lasting damage to Grand River and its watershed, and to the wildlife it supports such as the threatened Red Wine caribou herd.
The panel’s assessment acknowledged that the project would have adverse environmental impacts, but failed to reach a final conclusion on key issues like project alternatives and cumulative effects.
“What the panel did, it generally did well, but it didn’t reach conclusions or findings on all the factors that it was obligated to take into account,” said Bruno Marcocchio, Sierra Club Canada spokesperson. “Alternatives, like wind power or conservation demand management, were not examined and the panel failed to obtain the information needed to assess such alternatives.”
“The panel also failed to assess the cumulative environmental effects — like impacts on the George River caribou herd — that the Lower Churchill Generation Project would have in combination with other
projects,” said Roberta Benefiel, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador spokesperson, citing the transmission lines Nalcor seeks to build in conjunction with the Lower Churchill project as an example.