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VICTORIA — The B.C. Supreme Court has granted environmental activists a chance to overturn the environmental permit for the $3.3-billion upgrade of the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.
Last April, the provincial Ministry of Environment authorized Rio Tinto to increase sulphur dioxide emissions, paving the way for the massive modernization and expansion project. There are more than 2,400 construction workers on site, and the project is already over budget.
The opponents, including two environmental organizations as well as a handful of local citizens, want Rio Tinto to install sulphur dioxide scrubbers, which could add more than $150-million to the upgrade. The process removes sulphur dioxide from the stacks.
Two environmental groups, along with residents of both Terrace and Kitimat, sought to appeal the permit, saying the smelter upgrade would threaten human health and the environment in the Kitimat-Terrace airshed.
But the Environmental Appeal Board refused to grant standing to all but two Kitimat residents, ruling that the others did not qualify as a “person aggrieved.”
The coastal community of Kitimat is at the heart of the B.C. government’s ambitions to establish a liquefied natural gas industry, but little is known about how much pollution the community’s airshed can absorb. A government report that examines the region’s air quality is due this spring.
In his oral reasons for the decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brian MacKenzie said the increase of sulphur dioxide emissions, from 27 tonnes daily to 42 tonnes, is “of significant importance to the petitioners and the public in general.”
He said there was a serious breach of the petitioners’ right to procedural fairness by the appeal board. The board must now reconsider whether residents of Terrace and the the groups, SkeenaWild Conservation and Lakelse Watershed Stewards, should have standing on an appeal of the permit.
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