Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp appeals environmental assessment terms of reference, seeks judicial review

The company that owns the mothballed Northern Pulp mill is launching more legal action as part of its effort to resume operations.

Company wants targets set up front for emissions, effluent

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., viewed from Pictou, N.S., in 2019 (Robert Short/CBC)

The company that owns the mothballed Northern Pulp mill is launching further legal action as part of its effort to resume operations.

Officials with Northern Pulp filed a formal appeal Tuesday to Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman regarding its environmental assessment terms of reference, as well as an application for judicial review in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, related to its proposal for a new effluent treatment facility.

In an email, a spokesperson for the company said the decision to file for a judicial review at the same time it's asking the minister to review the terms of reference is based on taking "every available step" to "revise the terms of reference, so they are realistic, clear and better defined."

In a letter to Halman dated April 12, 2022, a company official writes that they want some provisions in the terms of reference removed or revised on the basis that they "impose conditions that are impossible to meet;" are "too indefinite, vague or uncertain;" and/or are "unrealistic and otherwise unreasonable."

Minister must remain impartial

In particular, the company takes issue with the fact the terms of reference do not spell out hard targets related to effluent and emission limits. The province has previously said these targets would come following efforts by the proponent to determine the overall impact of its project.

"Leaving many conditions without proper definition makes Northern Pulp vulnerable to scope creep and the department may later and without notice conclude that the necessary work has not been completed," Dale Paterson, Northern Pulp's environmental assessment project lead, writes in the letter to Halman. 

A spokesperson for the provincial government said Halman would not comment because he "must maintain the integrity and impartiality" of his role as the province's independent regulator.

"That means remaining neutral and not commenting on this specific environmental assessment process or on matters the company has now put before the regulator and the courts. Comments by the regulator could possibly risk, or be perceived to risk, the integrity of the regulatory and appeal process."

Other legal actions

The application for a judicial review is the latest trip to the courts by the company as it seeks to restart the mill that was forced to shut down in 2020 after the company failed to secure approval for a proposed new effluent treatment facility.

The company is suing the province for $450 million in Nova Scotia Supreme Court for damages and lost profits in relation to the government's decision to end Northern Pulp's lease to use Boat Harbour to treat its effluent 10 years early. Last week, the province introduced amendments to the Boat Harbour Act that Justice Department officials said are intended to clarify that the government cannot be held liable for the closure of Boat Harbour to effluent.

Meanwhile, a B.C. Supreme Court justice recently sided with the company in forcing the province into non-binding arbitration in what parent company Paper Excellence officials have said is a step intended to reach a settlement rather than following through with the lawsuit. Government lawyers said they were being "dragged" into that process.

Premier Tim Houston told reporters at Province House on Tuesday that the company is free to pursue whatever options it likes, but he stands by the provincial assessment process, which he said is intended to keep people safe and protect the environment. 

"I guess one thing that Northern Pulp has shown is they like to rely on the court process," said Houston.

"Any company, Northern Pulp or anyone that wants to operate here, has to meet the terms and conditions that are acceptable to Nova Scotians and we'll hold them to that standard for sure."

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