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Green groups challenge Lower Churchill project in Federal Court

Environmental groups are telling the Federal Court that the Government of Canada cannot lawfully endorse the Lower Churchill Generation Project until an environment assessment for the proposed mega-dam is complete.

Ecojustice lawyers are bringing this case before the court on behalf of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc. and Sierra Club Canada.

The groups seek a court order to block the federal government from issuing any permits or financial guarantees to Nalcor Energy, the project’s proponent, until an environment assessment is completed in full.

Despite the fact that the environmental assessment for the project is still incomplete and fails to address key issues like need for the project, project alternatives and cumulative effects, the federal government has already indicated it may support the project with a loan guarantee.

“If the Government of Canada issues a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill project without the review panel completing its assessment, we believe that loan guarantee would be unlawful,” said Lara Tessaro, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “We are confident that if the review panel were to complete a full assessment of the need for and alternatives to this harmful mega-dam, it would strongly recommend against this project.”

The panel’s unfinished assessment acknowledges that the project would have significantly adverse environmental impacts. The Lower Churchill hydroelectric project would dam the free-flowing lower reaches of Labrador’s Grand River — the seventh largest river in Canada — threatening fish and fish habitat, wetlands and local caribou herds.

“The Lower Churchill project will destroy Grand River and its surrounding ecosystems,” said Roberta Frampton Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper, Labrador Inc. “As the panel found, the risk of dam failure will also threaten communities along the river. The panel also did not assess the project’s cumulative effects on wildlife, like the George River caribou herd.”

“Given the significant environment harms that will be caused by the Lower Churchill project, we believe that the panel must go back and assess whether the project is even needed or justified — or whether Newfoundland and Labrador should pursue better, greener alternatives like tidal and wind energy instead,” said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

The environmental groups argue that before the project proceeds any further, the review panel must first complete its full assessment and reach conclusions on all the factors it was obligated to take into account, namely need for this project and project alternatives.

“Without this assessment, it is not clear that this project is even necessary or in best interest of Canadians,” Tessaro said. “We want the panel to finish the job it was tasked to do, and until that happens, we believe the federal government does not have the legal right to support the project with permits or funding.”

 

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