The Quebec government sued in the Northvolt case, the CQDE alleges that the firm obtained a “free pass”

The Quebec Environmental Law Center (CQDE) is launching legal action to challenge the regulations put in place by the Legault government and which allowed the Northvolt company to escape the environmental assessment procedure which would have led to an examination by the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE).

The CQDE has decided to add elements to the legal proceedings in the Northvolt case before the Superior Court. These additions aim to “contest the regulatory modification having ruled out the holding of a BAPE for the Northvolt gigafactory project”, argues the organization in a press release.

“We cannot let governments change standards at the behest of the customer: such a free pass would constitute a dangerous precedent. In light of the information revealed in recent weeks, it seems all the more important to us to ensure respect for the rule of law and our democratic processes,” explains Camille Cloutier, lawyer at the CQDE.

This new element is in addition to legal action launched in February in order to stop the work to destroy natural environments on the land of the future Northvolt factory. As part of an introductory application for judicial review, the CQDE argues that the decision of Quebec Minister of the Environment Benoit Charette to authorize the destruction of wetlands “is unreasonable, having regard to the responsibility of the Minister [de l’Environnement] to protect wetlands and the species living there.

The parties will soon meet in court to establish the next steps in the case.

In January, the Superior Court rejected a request for an injunction from the CQDE which aimed to temporarily stop work on the Northvolt site. The decision notably mentioned the company’s argument that it risked suffering “enormous economic damage” if the work, financed by public funds, was stopped.

Exclusion from BAPE

Prior to the regulatory changes that took effect in July 2023, as the company worked toward its September project announcement, the Northvolt industrial complex would have been subject to the process as a “manufacturing” facility. of chemicals.” But Quebec has created a separate category for factories related to “energy storage equipment”. It is in this category that the BAPE threshold increases from 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of production.

“Quebec did not have regulations to encourage the establishment of a battery sector. This is what we have developed over the last year, but in no way with the aim of favoring one company to the detriment of another. And never with the aim of circumventing or avoiding the regulations to avoid a BAPE. You must not make me say what I did not say,” Minister Benoit Charette argued last month.

“There was no preferential treatment granted to Northvolt, no privileges and no political pressure,” the minister also underlined.

However, the company confirmed at the beginning of March that it had asked the government to raise a threshold linked to battery production which was on the agenda during the development of changes to the regulations, in February 2023. Quebec provided that, beyond 30 gigawatt hours (GWh), a plant would be subject to the process leading to a BAPE examination. Northvolt asked it to set this threshold at 40 GWh. The Legault government finally abandoned the idea of ​​setting a threshold.

The procedure notably involving consultations under the aegis of the BAPE would have forced Northvolt to carry out an impact study which would have given an overview of the environmental, social and economic issues of the most important industrial project in recent decades. The project would then have been submitted to an examination by the BAPE, an independent body which has existed since 1978 and whose mandate is to make recommendations to the government.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has also launched legal action against the governments of Quebec and Canada in the Northvolt case. The court action argues that authorization for the project was granted in contravention of the First Nations’ “duty to consult”.

Meanwhile, Northvolt has already completed wetland destruction and felling work on its site. It is now awaiting ministerial authorization for the construction of the factory and has submitted a request to excavate contaminated soil present on its site, revealed Monday The duty. The Ministry of the Environment, which is currently analyzing the request and which must authorize the work, is however unaware of the levels of soil contamination and the volumes that will be excavated.

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