Groups, people pursue Rio Tinto Alcan emissions permit

They hope BC Supreme Court will allow them to challenge permit

LOCAL INDIVIDUALS and two environmental groups hope the BC Supreme Court will allow them to challenge the permission given to Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions as part of its $3.5 billion Kitimat aluminum smelter modernization project.

The court action seeks to overturn a decision by the BC Environmental Appeal Board which ruled the individuals and groups should not be allowed in on an appeal of an emissions permit given by the provincial environment ministry.

Charles Claus, one of two Terrace individuals denied permission to be part of the appeal, said the appeal board made its decision because he lived in Terrace and not Kitimat.

“I am an asthmatic – and there are other people in Terrace who are asthmatics – and we are downwind from the smelter. There will be an effect,” said Claus.

Claus, who also has fruit trees and grows root crops on Braun’s Island, says the prospect of more sulphur dioxide emissions will affect local agriculture.

“Basically, what we’re talking about here is acid rain,” said Claus.

At issue is the ability of the regional air shed to absorb the increased amount of sulphur dioxide Rio Tinto Alcan’s revamped smelter will emit.

While new technology at the revamped smelter will cut other emissions, the amount of sulphur dioxide being produced will increase because the amount of aluminum Rio Tinto Alcan is to produce will increase.

Claus, the other individuals, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and the Lakelse Watershed Society believe the aluminum giant should be installing sulphur dioxide scrubbers which use seawater. They say the reclaimed material can then be safely released into the ocean.

The provincial environment ministry, however, has decided the air shed can absorb the amount of sulphur dioxide that will be released when the new smelter begins production.

SkeenaWild executive director Greg Knox said part of the appeal to the supreme court will challenge the appeal board’s ruling that his group and the Lakelse Watershed Society weren’t considered “individuals” as defined by legislation.

“We think the board took a pretty narrow interpretation,” said Knox. “We’re arguing we represent the public’s interest around impacts to the environment.”

And part of the appeal is based on the information used by the appeal board to make its decision, he added.

“They used the information supplied by Rio Tinto Alcan as the only evidence they had,” said Knox of emissions data gathered by the company. “We don’t think that’s appropriate, using only the information from the company.”

At the very least, Knox continued, the environment ministry should be using air shed data being gathered by the province itself in a study due to be finished this spring.

While the environmental appeal board did deny standing to Terrace individuals and the two groups, it is permitting two Kitimat individuals to appeal the decision to grant Rio Tinto Alcan the emissions permit.

Rio Tinto Alcan has repeatedly stated that while sulphur dioxide emissions might be rising, emissions of other materials are being reduced by 50 per cent.

The company is “saddened that the lone emission to increase that (and that will have a limited impact) is causing a response of this magnitude from some members of the public. However, and as always, Rio Tinto Alcan will abide by and respect all decisions of the regulators and legal processes,” said company official Colleen Nyce.

Rio Tinto Alcan challenged the ability of two Kitimat individuals as well as the two groups and people from Terrace to appeal the emissions permit.

“Challenging standing of “appellants is a normal process. We simply wanted the appellants to state clearly how they are personally impacted by the emission. This way, the discussion is focused on real impact,” said Nyce.