Green Groups in Court to Defend Tar Sands Victory

Environmental groups are headed back to court tomorrow to defend a precedent-setting court victory that has drawn further attention to the massive environmental impacts of Alberta's booming tar sands. Earlier this year the groups had argued that the environmental assessment of Imperial Oil's massive Kearl Tar Sands Project was legally flawed and that the province should put the brakes on tar sands development until proper safeguards are in place.

On March 5th the Federal Court of Canada released a decision highlighting legal errors in the project's assessment. The Court found that the federal-provincial assessment panel failed to provide reasons for its conclusion that the project's greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions from 800,000 cars, would be "insignificant". The Court's decision prompted the federal government to inform Imperial that the key federal permit for the project was invalid, halting construction of large parts of the multi-billion dollar project. Imperial Oil, who also manages the Syncrude oilsands project, then challenged the government's decision to invalidate the permit.

On behalf of the Pembina Institute, Sierra Club of Canada, Toxics Watch Alberta and the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition, lawyers from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) will be back in Federal Court defending their court victory and the actions of the government.

"In our view, the Court's decision made it clear that the Kearl permit was invalid," said Ecojustice lawyer Sean Nixon. "Imperial is arguing that the requirement for the panel to provide reasons is in effect a pointless paper exercise. We think they're wrong - the whole point of federal assessment is to provide a reasoned analysis of the project's likely environmental effects. Without that analysis, no federal permits can be issued."

The Kearl Project is an open-pit mining operation being proposed north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The project would cover 200 square kilometers of Alberta's Boreal Forest.

"The Kearl Oilsands Project will create a heavy environmental burden," said Simon Dyer from the Pembina Institute. "This strip-mining operation will emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Oilsands developments like this are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada and it is essential these impacts are properly addressed."

"The federal government did the right thing by revoking the permit for the Kearl project," said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. "Instead of launching unnecessary court proceedings opposing this revocation, Imperial Oil should be focusing on how to reduce the gargantuan greenhouse gas, smog, and toxic liquid tailings that their tar sands project would emit."

The hearings will begin at 9:30am on May 7th at the Federal Court of Canada in Calgary, (3rd floor, Canadian Occidental Tower, 635 Eighth Avenue S.W.) and are expected to last two days.

The hearings mark the third court appearance in Alberta in less than a year for Ecojustice, Canada's largest non-profit environmental law organization. As pressure on the province's air, water and natural spaces has intensified, Ecojustice's legal team has been increasingly called upon by concerned local groups and citizens. In response to this growing need for a legal advocate for the environment, Ecojustice plans to establish an Alberta office in the next few months to provide free legal services to the province's environmental community.

- 30 -

For further information please contact:

Sean Nixon, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (604) 313-3132 (cell)
Simon Dyer, Pembina Institute (403) 322 3937
Stephen Hazell, Sierra Club of Canada (613) 241-4611 or (613) 724-1908 (cell)
Myles Kitagawa, Toxics Watch Society of Alberta (780) 439 1912 or (780) 907 1231 (cell)

Get our Pembina Perspectives

Pembina Perspectives provides provides thoughtful, evidence-based research and analysis to support action on climate — in your inbox every two weeks.

We endeavour to protect your confidentiality; read our full privacy policy.