Environmental Groups Appeal Court Decision Regarding the Newfoundland Offshore

Canadian environmental groups are appealing a recent Federal Court ruling that they say exempts future offshore oil and gas projects off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador from proper environmental review.

In December, the Federal Court dismissed a request by environmental groups for a judicial review of an offshore regulatory regime that the Canadian government put into effect in June 2020.

This decision notes that the Canadian government implemented the regulatory regime in order to avoid duplication of management – between itself and the province – of exploration activities in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. Labrador, “and to ensure that the highest standards of environmental protection continue to be applied and maintained.

Environmental groups have opposed the regulatory regime – particularly a regional assessment of exploratory oil and gas drilling in the region and a regulation exempting future projects from further scrutiny – arguing that an increase in activity Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore exploration threatens important marine ecosystems while hampering Canada’s ability to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Federal Court dismissed their application for judicial review.

The appeal was filed Tuesday, January 11, with the Federal Court of Appeal by lawyers for Ecojustice, which represents the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Ecology Action Center.

“This assessment failed to adequately examine the cumulative effects of exploratory oil and gas drilling, leaving marine ecosystems off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the communities that depend on them. , vulnerable to the uncontrolled development of fossil fuels, “said Ecojustice lawyer Ian Miron. in a press release.

“As the climate emergency continues to escalate, Canada must recognize the negative social and economic impacts of fossil fuels. An open door policy to exploratory drilling is incompatible with the urgent action needed for Canada to meet its critical climate goals. “

On June 4, 2020, the federal government released ministerial regulations aimed at improving the efficiency of the assessment process for exploratory drilling projects in an offshore area of ​​Newfoundland and Labrador – subject to a series of conditions focused on protecting the environment and ensuring Indigenous engagement.

At the time, the federal government said the regulations “provide that exploratory drilling projects in a specific area of ​​the Canada-NL offshore area are excluded from the requirement to undergo a project-specific federal impact assessment.” The regulation was taken into account of the work carried out during the regional assessment of exploratory drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador. This work was undertaken as part of a collaborative process between the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Then-federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said the announcement made the regulatory process for doing business off Newfoundland and Labrador more efficient, “while meeting the highest standards. higher environmental protection “.

“This brings predictability and certainty to investors, making the province a more internationally competitive place to invest, which will drive economic prosperity for people here and across Canada,” said O ‘Regan.

The regional assessment challenged in the appeal is the first to be conducted under the new federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA), environmental groups note. They say the regional assessment is flawed and sets “a poor and dangerous precedent for regional assessments, which could otherwise be a promising protective mechanism under the IAA.”

“The outcome of this case has massive negative implications for marine biodiversity and environmental legislation in Canada,” said Sigrid Kuehnemund, vice president of wildlife and industry at WWF-Canada.

“WWF-Canada believes the judge did not properly assess the many risks of exploratory drilling to Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore habitats and the species that use them. It is too important to protect marine ecosystems from the impacts of drilling and to ensure that Canada’s environmental legislation remains strong for this decision to stand.

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