On January 27 the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal of the Federal government’s failure to prepare a federal environmental assessment of the Petro-Canada Forth Hills tar sands project. Now those opposed to the tar sands development are weighing their options.
A coalition of environmental groups, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund, went to Federal Court in 2004 to challenge a decision from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans favouring the project. The groups then appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal in 2005.
“We are disappointed by the decision,” said Sierra Legal Defence Fund lawyer Tim Howard. “The DFO should not have a license to avoid taking responsibility for the assessment of major projects across Canada. We now have to take a serious look at what our legal options are.”
Sierra Legal, The Prairie Acid Rain Coalition, Toxics Watch Society of Alberta, and the Pembina Institute had argued that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires a comprehensive assessment of the huge tar sands mine. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, however, limited the Federal assessment to a small creek that will be destroyed by the mine. This puts the mine’s major impacts on important areas of federal jurisdiction – migratory bird habitat, greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air and water pollution – outside the scope of the federal assessment.
“Canada needs to do more when applying its own environmental laws.” said Martha Kostuch of the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition. “We’ve got a lot of thinking to do in the sixty day period we’re given to consider a further appeal.”