The Nova Scotia Environment Department has given the green light to a pilot project that will see a cement plant burn tires as fuel.

Lafarge Canada's plant in Brookfield will operate a one-year pilot project in conjunction with researchers at Dalhousie University. The company hopes tire burning will reduce its carbon footprint and bring down operating costs.

Right now, the plant burns coal to power its kilns.

As part of the environmental assessment approval, the company will only be allowed to use tires for up to 15 per cent of its daily fuel. It must also form a community liaison committee to keep area residents informed about the project and develop a plan to resolve complaints.

Company says it will share results with the public

Lafarge Canada's environmental director, Robert Cumming, said in a phone interview the company will be working on the project with a Dalhousie University research team.

"Based on the research that we've seen from Dalhousie so far, it looks like we can achieve a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions for every tonne of coal we replace, and also we're expecting potentially a 15 per cent reduction in some of our other emissions as well," he said.

Cumming said getting the system ready to handle the tires would cost several million dollars. He said they expect to begin in early 2018 and results would be shared with the public.

"We're very confident that the results will be very good for the environment," said Cumming.

Minister won't comment on subsidies

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Iain Rankin

Environment Minister Iain Rankin sidestepped the suggestion the decision amounts to a subsidy for Lafarge. (CBC)

The results will almost certainly be good for Lafarge's bottom line.

The company won a tender for five years of access to 30 per cent of the tires in the province. As part of that tender, the company is paid for taking the used tires and disposing of them. In this case, because they're being used as a fuel replacement, the process will reduce the company's energy costs.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin sidestepped the suggestion the decision amounts to a subsidy for a private company.

"The considerations for me when I look at environmental assessment is the evidence and science in that application along with the public submissions," he said.

Residents concerned about effect on air and water

Area residents have expressed concerns about whether tire burning could affect surrounding air and water quality.

Lafarge must also apply for a temporary industrial approval to operate the project. That plan will require details about tire storage and waste management, continuous emission monitoring, stack tests with air and gas samples at the place of origin before and after the project begins, and an emergency response outline if the kiln malfunctions.

Blow to tire recycler

The news did not sit well with the operators of Halifax C & D Recycling Ltd., which has had the contract since 2009 to receive and recycle all of the used passenger vehicle tires in the province.

The company has been processing about a million tires a year to be used in construction-related projects. The Lafarge approval means 30 per cent of those tires will now go to the cement plant as fuel.

Mike Chassie, vice-president of Halifax C & D Recycling, said the decision limits his company's ability to grow markets and he thinks it sends the wrong message about the value the province places on recycling.

"I think it's even more disappointing for the entire recycling industry in Nova Scotia," he said.

Mike Chassie

Mike Chassie, vice-president of Halifax C&D Recycling Ltd., says the decision to allow tire burning reflects poorly on Nova Scotia's commitment to recycling. (CBC)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill didn't mince words in expressing his disappointment with the government's decision. Burrill said the former Tory government was right to reject a similar request in 2007 and the Liberals should have done the same this time.

"This is dense, dumb and stupid to allow for this to go forward now," he said.

Burrill said the decision will "destroy a world-class recycling tire program."

Government green washing

Ecology Action Centre policy director Mark Butler said the project may reduce emissions at the Lafarge plant, but it's going to have a negative effect on overall reduction efforts in the province.

"If we're going to burn tires, it means we're not going to be using them for tire-derived aggregate, which means we're going to mine more aggregate, which pushes up our greenhouse emissions," he said.

Mark Butler of Ecology Action Centre

The Ecology Action Centre's Mark Butler says the project will have a negative effect on overall emission reduction efforts in the province. (CBC)

Butler noted the Liberals have already approved a coal mine and natural gas projects without any consideration for greenhouse gas emissions, yet that's exactly what's cited in Thursday's approval as a reason to allow the Lafarge project to go ahead.

"Usually when we're arguing our issues, we're told we have to do this for the jobs. Well, we have jobs on our side, I think we have environment on our side, I think we have science on our side. What don't we have on our side? Is it just that we don't have a large corporation on our side?" he said.