Concerned Citizens take Environmental Appeal Board to Court
January 9th 2014 (Terrace, B.C.) – A group of concerned citizens and local organizations are challenging in the BC Supreme Court the recent BC Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) decision to deny them standing in an appeal brought before the Board.
The appeal, launched with the EAB last spring, challenged the BC Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) to increase sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from its aluminum smelter in Kitimat. The increase from 27 to 42 tonnes per day would enable the company to boost smelter production without requiring it to invest in emissions reduction technology.
“We believe the EAB made an error in denying us standing” stated appellant, asthma sufferer, and local food grower Charles Claus. “RTA’s own report shows increased hospital visits for people with asthma and other respiratory problems; it also shows acidification of local rivers, lakes, and soils will take place. We will be impacted and should have the right to appeal the Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow substantial increases in emissions”.
Two individuals who reside in Terrace and two local organizations, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Lakelse Watershed Society, launched the judicial review of the EAB’s standing decision. RTA challenged the standing of all of the appellants who filed the appeal. Two Kitimat residents were the only appellants granted standing by the EAB. Chris Tollefson of the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) at the University of Victoria and Richard Overstall of Buri Overstall in Smithers, are representing the Terrace appellants and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Lakelse Watershed Society on the matter of standing and their right to file the appeal.
“It is unfortunate that RTA and the EAB aren’t taking our concerns seriously; they have left us no option but to take them to court” said Greg Knox, executive director, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “RTA’s own experts have told us scrubbers are safe, effective and can easily be installed at the new smelter – the company simply doesn’t want to spend the money; they would rather spend it on lawyers.”
SO2 has serious health and environmental impacts. The Northern Health Authority and the Northwest Regional Hospital District have expressed concerns regarding the health impacts of increased emissions. Both have sent letters to RTA and the BC Ministry of Environment recommending sulphur dioxide scrubbers be installed. Moreover, the World Health Organization has linked air pollution to an increased risk of lung cancer, respiratory and heart diseases.
The chemical also causes the acidification of soils, lakes and rivers. Local food growers have highlighted the potential impacts of soil acidification on food production in the area.
“RTA’s claim that it is safer to release SO2 into the air than to scrub it and put it into the ocean is absurd” said Lynda Gagne, Terrace homeowner and Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration.
“SO2 turns to sulfate when scrubbed with seawater. Sulfate is harmless and already occurs in high concentrations in the ocean. “This technology has been used safely around the world for several decades to limit the harm caused by releasing SO2 in the atmosphere. RTA simply wants to pass its production costs on to the population and to an already strained environment”.
While the costs of installing and operating scrubbers are not trivial, they would make up only a small portion of the company’s overall investment in the project.
Chris Tollefson – legal counsel, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, 250-888-6074 (Victoria)
Greg Knox – SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, 250-615-1990 (Terrace)
Kelly Kline – Lakelse Lake Watershed Society, 250-798-2535 (Terrace)
Charles Claus – 250-638-8996 (Terrace)
Lynda Gagne – 250-590-2081 (Victoria)