Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird is facing a lawsuit for his lax treatment of Irving Oil’s proposal to construct a massive oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. Environmental groups commenced the lawsuit to ensure that the multi-billion dollar refinery – which is expected to generate 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year- faces the full scrutiny of an environmental assessment by the federal government.
Launched by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) on behalf of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick’s Fundy Baykeeper and Friends of the Earth Canada, the lawsuit challenges the federal government’s decision to dramatically restrict its assessment of the environmental impact of the Irving refinery to the facility’s wharf structure – ignoring obvious local and transboundary air pollution and global warming impacts of the refinery.
“Minister Baird’s decision to evaluate the wharf and turn a blind eye to the refinery itself is not only illegal, it is plainly absurd,” said Ecojustice lawyer Justin Duncan. “The law is clear; the federal government must conduct an assessment of the entire project in order to evaluate the impact this refinery will have on the health of the region’s residents and the environment.”
The federal government’s decision to study only the wharf would leave the assessment of the refinery’s environmental impacts to the province, which has a weaker environmental assessment law and has been a vigorous proponent of the project.
“We are gravely concerned about the impacts the Irving refinery would have on air quality, public health, greenhouse gas emissions, and on federally protected endangered species such as the Right Whale and Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon,” said David Coon, Policy Director, Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “This decision sets a terrible precedent for similar projects being proposed throughout the country.”
The Irving Refinery is one of three new refineries proposed across Canada where Minister Baird has refused to order a full environmental assessment and instead restricted federal involvement to the associated wharf or docking facilities, including projects in Southern Head, Newfoundland and Sarnia, Ontario. These proposed refineries will be the first to be built in Canada in approximately 25 years. The lawsuit argues that under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act the federal government must study and minimize the harmful environmental impacts of these types of large-scale industrial projects.
“Given that this refinery would immediately join the ranks of the largest sources of pollution in the country, the federal government has a legal obligation to examine the full environmental impacts of the project,” said Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada. “More than ever, Canadians want and expect both jobs and a clean environment – this is what the federal environmental assessment process is designed to address.”
Government respondents include Environment Canada, Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Irving Oil Ltd. is also a respondent to the suit. It is expected the Federal Court will hear the application in mid-2008.