Feds not off the hook on Lower Churchill assessment: lawyer

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Muskrat Falls — Transcontinental Media file photo

The federal government is working towards changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act but, according to a lawyer with Ecojustice, those changes will be irrelevant to an ongoing court challenge to the environmental review of the Lower Churchill project.

Ecojustice is representing Grand Riverkeeper Labrador and the Sierra Club of Canada in the court case. A third participant in the case, the NunatuKavut Community Council, is being represented separately.

The Lower Churchill project has been released from federal environmental assessment. However, the three groups involved in the court case claim the Government of Canada failed “to assess or incorrectly or unreasonably assessed” several key points, including potential alternatives, and were therefore not legally allowed to release the project from further review.

As for changes to the act — something Ecojustice is publicly objecting to as an organization — Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro said it needs to be clear that work stands separate from the Lower Churchill.

“I think it’s very important that the government not equate its desire to weaken environmental laws in Canada in the future with what are its current, legal obligations to assess the Lower Churchill project,” she said.

“I’ll just try and step back from that and be a bit clearer. It’s clear that the federal government hopes to weaken environmental assessment laws. But it’s also very clear that, for the Lower Churchill project, it was the federal government itself and specifically the minister of Environment who required that alternatives be assessed.

It was the government’s direction to the joint review panel in the terms of reference that the joint review panel must study alternatives and it must study need for the project.”

Tessaro said arguments and evidence for the court case have to be submitted over the next couple of months. That will be followed by a hearing — one she expects might happen in early summer.

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver has said he is eager to see changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in order to see the regulatory process “streamlined” for major projects.

While in St. John’s, he told reporters he felt reforms were needed to keep certain environmental groups from “gaming” the review process.

“I can comment on that,” Tessaro said. “Minister Oliver has, since early January, been casting aspersions on the environmental community in Canada. To be clear, the environmental community is simply you and me and our neighbours and people who care about conserving Canada’s natural resources. ... So for the minister to allege that environmentalists are simply trying to cause interference, it’s spurious.”

Court case aside, the Lower Churchill project still requires authorizations from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada, in relation to planned effects on fish habitat and navigable waters, before construction can begin.

The proponent, Nalcor Energy, has yet to make its final no or go decision.


Organizations: Sierra Club of Canada, NunatuKavut Community Council, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Transport Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 30, 2012 - 10:57

    No, you didn't see the 10s of BILLIONS of dollars lost to Quebec as a result of a provincial government boondoggle either. ++++ Now we are about to repeat that boondoggle --- only worse. ++++ Muskrat Falls power costs about 37cents/KWh to deliver to the Avalon (not including the additional $1.1 billion for interest during construction, not including what is usually a 56% cost overrun for dams of this size, not including much higher debt servicing charges when rates go up. +++++ and that says nothing about the the 'sleeper' escalating clause that Nalcor has included in its 'take or pay' contract, which they only 'project' right now at 2% annually, but which will actually be whatever inflation is. ++++ Historically inflation has been double and quadruple that 2%+++++ The impact that has on future rates is exponential. Doubling that rate means that in later years rates will IN ACTUALITY go UP 4 times as much.+++++ Add to that that WE DON'T NEED more power, export value of energy now is 4-5 cents/KWh and west Labrador mining can get their power from Quebec for that price (Quebec has identified in their recent budget for Hydro Quebec to study the upgrade of transmission lines to west Labrador). +++++++So that leaves 200,000 island ratepayers to pay for the construction of 37 cent power that WE DON'T NEED, that is worth 5 cents and we will have to pay THE FULL COST FOR so that Danny's clients (and he is now also been appointed to the board of another west Labrador mining company) can get Muskrat Falls power at 4-5 cents that island ratepayers will have no choice but to pay for. ++++++ Why should island household ratepayers pay for cheap electricity for mining giant industrial customers? That is what this is all about. Every man, woman and child in NL will take on additional debt of $12,000.00 (about $50,000.00 per household), so that mining companies can increase their profit.

  • H Jefford
    March 29, 2012 - 23:25

    I toured the Churchill Falls Hydro a few years back, a friend of mine was accounts manager with the Hydro Co. When we got to the Churchill falls hydro plant I asked Bill where is Churchill falls all I seen was a office building,We just got off of CF ELCOS Jet, We went in the Building and got in an elevator then went down my ears started to crack again we steeped into a very large room with meters and guages all over the walls, he took me all through the Churchill falls hydro plant It was amassing what i saw this hydro development cut out of solid rock there was no smoke going into the air like Holyroad it was like any office building you see down town, It was all cut out of solid clift, I think the TV producers should take a film and show the churchill falls hydro built in solid clift under ground

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 28, 2012 - 13:19

    OPENEYES, How about telling the public "how many days that Holyrood operated at capacity last year?" ---- then talk to me about misleading the people. ++++ Both Nalcor and the government have repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, told the public that Holyrood uses 18,000 barrels of oil a day (and only sometimes has it been said that that is only during parts of the winter). +++ Both Nalcor and government have repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly told the public that Holyrood costs $1.5 million a DAY just for oil --- and not always has it been made clear that that is only for a few days during the winter. +++++ The fact is that Holyrood provides only about 12-15% of the island's energy needs, and even in winter (during the worst winter months), over the last 8 years Holyrood on average was needed to operate at only 50% capacity and over the last 6 year that has gone down to 44% capacity ---- EVEN DURING THE WORST OF THE WINTER.+++++ 18,000 bbls per day and $1.5 million per day FOR OIL is MISLEADING and gives the public the clear impression that Holyrood costs $500-$600 million A YEAR for oil ---- when over the last 10 yeasr on average it has been considerably LESS THAN $100 million (just over $90 million). It will cost 3 or 4 times that (for decades) just to pay interest on the Muskrat Falls debt. +++++ I guess there are those who indeed know a lot about "misleading" the public. +++++ How about that 2% escalating clause on rates? When Nalcor knows that inflation over the last 20 or so years has been double that, and if inflation is higher, then the escalating clause that finally goes in the 'take or pay' contract will be double or more the 2%? +++++ And what will that mean for consumer rates? +++++ I could think of a much stronger word than 'mislead'.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 28, 2012 - 10:41

    Also, why would Labrador's mining companies pay the 30 cents/KWh for Muskrat Falls power when Quebec can provide them power for 5 cent/KWh? ++++ Excerpt from today's Globe and Mail article re Labrador mining:---- "Quebec announced in its recent budget three measures that could help jump-start more mining in the (Labrador) trough. It said the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Canadian National Railway Co. are planning a feasibility study for a second rail line into the region. Hydro-Québec has also been asked to study extending the provincial transmission grid, which would benefit new producers."

    • H Jefford
      April 01, 2012 - 07:41

      If Quebec can sell power to Labrador cheaper than Newfoundland, and Newfoundland owns the Churchill Falls Plant, then what kind of a one-sided deal have Quebec got for power? Is there a recall of this power clause? Like i said before, Newfoundland should build the Muskrat Falls generating plant and build the transmission line from Labrador to the Island of Newfoundland and then onto Nova Scotia. This transmission line should be built big enough with extra lines to also carry the Upper Churchill Falls power when this one-sided deal that is in place now with Quebec expires.

  • Don II
    March 28, 2012 - 10:30

    All of this speculation may be for nothing anyway, it appears that Hydro Quebec is rumored to be negotiating or planning to purchase a controlling interest in Emera/Nova Scotia Power. If that is the case and Hydro Quebec ends up owning Nova Scotia Power the Government of Newfoundland and Nalcor will have to get permission from Hydro Quebec to transport power from Labrador through Nova Scotia! It looks like Hydro Quebec will have control of all of the transmission pathways for power from Labrador to the rest of North America! Could that be what the Government of Newfoundland does not want debated in the House of Assembly and much, much more?

  • John Smith
    March 28, 2012 - 07:29

    First off lady...don't include me in your group, because I would never want to be associtated with money grubbing, self serving parasites like you, and those of your ilk. You say you care about the enviroment? What about the tons and tons of carbon spewed into the air in Holyrood each year? Oh, right, I forgot, no money to be made there, no court cases, no public fame, no cheques from the righteous who think electricity comes from rainbows and butterflies. These people make me sick. I hope after they lose the case that they are made to pay all court costs.

    • Brett
      March 28, 2012 - 10:04

      Yes - at the end of all this - I would like to see the costs the naysayers have run up on behalf of us all while trying to get the project cancelled.

    • lonenewfwolf
      March 28, 2012 - 11:06

      yis bye. the guys flying around in corporate jets from emera and lavalin with board members of our publicly controlled energy company are after our water, prime energy assets and the transmission system. you need to look at yourself. the people who are taking the corptocracy to court are not the problem here, the ones at the top of the corporations clamoring to get at the strings of our public purse are. get real.

    • Brett
      March 28, 2012 - 17:40

      You're right LoneNewfWolf, all the people who'veworked hard to amass something in their lives are out to rape and pillage the province. Nalcor, the provincial gov't, emera and the PUB board are all in cohoots trying to divvy up your entitlements. How can we all screw the avg. newfoundlander is exactly what they ask when they get together chortle and drink bottles of Dom Perignon on their private jets and vacation on their yachts in the mediteranean sea (stolen from the hardworking greek people of course).

    • lonenewfwolf
      April 01, 2012 - 09:02

      u tellin me people in suits work? they make money on the backs of the working man my friend, that is how their money is made. we need a new definition for corporate execs. leeches would be more fitting a term. they're not getting the water, they can take that to the bank.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 28, 2012 - 07:10

    The Review Panel says that Nalcor should further assess whether the island needs Muskrat Falls. +++++ Our "firm" energy capacity is just under 9,000 GWh, while our demand in 2010 was 7,600 GWh (down 12% since 2004).+++++ Our 'peak' power capacity is 1,958 MW, while our 'peak' power needed in 2010 was 1,478 MW (almost 500 MW of UNUSED power).+++++ Yet, somehow, Nalcor says we need to go in debt BILLIONS of dollars to bring 40% of Muskrat Fall power (330MW) and 40% its energy (1,800 GWh) to the island to 'replace' 500 MW and 3,000 GWh of capacity and energy THAT WE ALREADY DO NOT USE.

    • openeyes, openmind
      March 28, 2012 - 12:33

      Peak supply is only available when the reservoirs are all full. This does not occur at the same time as the peak demand, which occurs sometime in the middle of the winter. Quit misleading people. And don't forget that some othe power supply you refer to comes from Holyrood - a dirty old plant that can't keep running without significant investment. And even with investment, the day will come when it's substantial emissions mean it will not be allowed to run.