Path to judicial review of EA approval in Goldboro cleared by appeal court decision

GUYSBOROUGH – The Nova Scotia Court of Appeals has declared, in a decision dated Feb. 22, that the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) and New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance Inc. (NB Alliance) have public interest standing to seek a judicial review regarding the Nova Scotia Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s environmental assessment approval of a highway re-alignment project in Goldboro, Guysborough County.

In March 2021, Pieridae Energy (Canada) Ltd., proponent of the Goldboro LNG project, which received EA approval with conditions in March 2014, requested environmental assessment approval from the province for a related project: the re-alignment of Highway 316 in Goldboro, required infrastructure for the proposed LNG project. On April 29, 2021, the minister issued a conditional environmental assessment approval for the re-alignment project.

In July 2021, EAC and NB Alliance applied to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to launch a judicial review challenging the approval for the rerouting of Highway 316. The groups’ concerns, outlined in a brief to the minister and noted in the Feb. 22 decision, were: “Pieridae should not construct the LNG Project’s infrastructure without the approved Greenhouse Gas Management Plan that was required by the March 2014 conditions, and (2) the excavation for the highway re-alignment would expose toxic chemicals, contaminants and tailings from the abandoned gold mines in the area.”

The application for a judicial review was dismissed by the court in a decision released in April 2022, which denied the groups’ public interest standing – which allows a person or organization to bring a case notwithstanding their lack of direct involvement in the matter, or any infringement of their personal rights – in the case.

The appeal decision released last month reversed the April 2022 finding, allowing the case seeking a judicial review of the environment assessment approval for the highway re-alignment to move forward.

Ecojustice lawyer James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, who represented EAC and NB Alliance in the appeal case, spoke to The Journal about the appeal court decision and next steps for his clients on March 6.

The Feb. 22 decision allows the environmental groups, EAC and NB Alliance, “to bring the case that they had intended to bring, and it will be heard in due course, and then the court will decide what the court’s view is on that,” said Gunvaldsen Klaassen.

Public interest standing, he added, “enhances access to justice in Nova Scotia and allows public interest groups like EAC and NB…[or] any groups that can qualify as public interest litigant, are able to bring matters to court to challenge government decisions when it is appropriate, when they have a solid case to bring.”

Asked what the wider implications of this case may be for climate change litigation and environmental protection, Gunvaldsen Klaassen said, “Environmental issues are notoriously difficult to litigate especially for an individual who may not have the money to seek out expertise and to bring it [the case] in a timely way…Whereas public interest groups like Ecology Action Centre and New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance have some expertise; over a long time they’ve developed this to gain a better and more sophisticated understanding of environmental issues and how to address them.”

He continued, “The EA process is a planning tool, and it should be done fully, properly and transparently so that everybody knows what’s happening and you can follow the process of it, and government is accountable for these decisions. And, in this case, we found many of those things were lacking and it’s a major concern for our clients. They were very pleased with this decision which allows them to move their case forward.”

The Journal contacted the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change for comment on the Feb. 22 court decision and received the following statement via email: “We have received the Court of Appeal decision and are reviewing it now to determine any next steps the province will take.”

The province has 60 days from the date of the decision to file an appeal. If no appeal is filed, the original case will be brought back to court and a new hearing date set.

The Journal also asked Pieridae Energy for comment on the appeal court decision via email last week and had not received a reply as of press time.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision is available online by searching the Courts of Nova Scotia decision database.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal