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Alberta court denies Maxim coal plant challenge

Contentious expansion project to go-ahead

21 Oct 2011

CALGARY — An Alberta court has rejected Ecojustice's challenge, launched on behalf of the Pembina Institute, of the Alberta Utilities Commission's (AUC) approval of a controversial coal-fired power plant expansion.

In June, the AUC endorsed an expansion of Maxim Power Corp.'s Milner plant in Grande Cache, Alta., a move that could allow the company to avoid new federal greenhouse gas regulations that effectively require a 50 per cent cut in emissions.

Ecojustice and Pembina sought to overturn the approval, arguing that the AUC failed to explain how allowing Maxim to avoid the new regulations is in the public interest.

Unfortunately, the court deemed the appeal as moot given that the AUC issued a final approval of the plant expansion after the early interim decision. Justice Patricia Rowbotham stated that the court would not intervene to tell the AUC when to set dates for its approvals.

The approval, now final, cannot be appealed further. The court's final decision can be found HERE.

"It is unfortunate that the court found no legal pathway to challenge this decision," said Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson. "It continues to be our position that the AUC's role is to protect the interest of Albertans and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not to help Maxim avoid the new regulations."

"We are now looking to federal environment minister Peter Kent to deliver on his pledge to ensure that the new federal regulations aren't circumvented by companies like Maxim trying to sneak in under the wire,"[1] said Chris Severson-Baker, spokesperson for the Pembina Institute.

"Unless Maxim redesigns its project so that it can comply with the new federal regulations, we will continue to oppose it through every possible avenue," noted Severson-Baker. "Albertans expect more from companies proposing new power generation in the province, especially when there are so many cleaner alternatives."

No new coal plants have been approved in Alberta for a decade. If the Milner expansion were required to comply with future federal coal regulations, its greenhouse gas pollution could be nearly cut in half. This translates into preventing 1.5 million tonnes of emissions per year during the project's 45-year lifespan — equivalent to taking 300,000 new vehicles off the road.

History

In documents submitted to the AUC, Maxim argued that it had received assurances from the federal Environment Minister that it could avoid being subject to future federal regulations — which will limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity — if it could get the plant into service by July 1, 2015. Maxim said that it could only meet this deadline if the AUC approved the expansion by June 30.

On June 30, the AUC ruled that no public hearing would be held. The regulator also gave the expansion interim approval, noting that Maxim needed the accelerated decision "to address the potential impact of pending federal carbon legislation on this plant." Shortly after, the AUC gave the project final approval.

The quick approval, however, drew heavy criticism from environmental groups. In August, Ecojustice, on behalf of the Pembina Institute, filed for leave to appeal the AUC's ruling.

Sources

[1]"It was never the intention to create a loophole for short-cutters to get in and get a half-century licence to emit greenhouse gases or to put other toxins into the air which have serious impacts on Canadians living downwind." — Federal Environment Minister, Peter Kent

Heather Scoffield, "Ottawa to electricity firms: don't rush to beat pending emissions rules," the Globe and Mail, September 9, 2011.

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Contact

  • Barry Robinson, Staff lawyer | Ecojustice
    403.705.0202 or 403.830.2032
  • Chris Severson-Baker, Managing director | Pembina Institute
    403.899.7423
  • Kimberly Shearon, Communications coordinator | Ecojustice 
    604.685.5618 x242

Posted October 21, 2011 by AEN

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