The beleaguered Northern Pulp plant in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, with support from Unifor and representatives of the forest industry, has filed an application for judicial review of the Nova Scotia Environment Minister’s December 17, 2019 decision to require a full environmental assessment of the plant’s proposed effluent treatment facility. That decision, coupled with Nova Scotia Premier’s refusal to extend the January 31, 2020 deadline to cease using the plant’s current Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility, led to a decision to close the plant and lay off more than 300 workers.
The application for judicial review argues that the minister’s decision to require a full environmental assessment contained errors in fact and in law, and was based on irrelevant considerations.
It’s unclear, however, what would be the impact of a decision in Northern Pulp’s favour. Nova Scotia’s Boat Harbour Act requires that Northern Pulp cease using its current effluent treatment facility on January 31, 2020. Northern Pulp says the requirement for a full environmental assessment adds another two years to its process for obtaining approval of its proposed effluent treatment facility. However, even if a full environmental assessment had not been required, Northern Pulp would not have met the January 31, 2020 deadline.
In a statement, Linda MacNeil, Unifor Atlantic regional director, says it’s about fairness.
“A judicial review of the decisions made by Nova Scotia Environment is necessary to ensure the process has been, and will continue to be, fair, reasonable and transparent, and making sure that the concerns of mill employees are included,” she said.
Hope remains that the plant can eventually resume operations. The company says it will begin the environmental assessment of its proposed new effluent treatment facility, which includes a 15-kilometre pipeline to transport treated effluent to an outfall in the Northumberland Strait. According to the company, it hopes the court action will give more clarity to the environmental assessment process.
In the meantime, Northern Pulp has been granted permission to continue limited use of its Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility in order to manage the safe hibernation of the plant. The Ministerial Order, issued January 29, 2020, allows the discharge of warm boiler water and run-off into the treatment facility. This will prevent pipe freeze-up in the cold winter months while decommissioning work continues.