By StÃ©phane Blais, The Canadian Press on January 24, 2024.
MONTREAL – A Quebec environmental group was in court Wednesday against Swedish manufacturer Northvolt, arguing that the province allowed work to begin on the company’s electric vehicle battery plant without proper analysis of the impact on the area’s biodiversity.
The Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement began presenting its case in Quebec Superior Court, where it’s seeking two injunctions to suspend work on the site of the future $7-billion facility southeast of Montreal.
The group’s lawyer presented a number of documents, including one she described as an assessment from a government biologist who said the information provided by Northvolt was insufficient to evaluate the impact on wildlife on the site.
Lawyer Jessica Leblanc said it was “unreasonable” for the province’s Environment Department to have authorized Northvolt to begin work on the site because it didn’t have enough information on the environmental impacts.
She said the authorization was also given on the condition that Northvolt propose a plan to mitigate the impacts of any biodiversity loss, but that it was given three years to do so.
The project was announced in September by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault, with the two levels of government committing billions in financial support.
The provincial Environment Department issued the authorization to begin construction on Jan. 9. As part of the approval, it wrote that in order to mitigate the impact on wildlife habitat, the company “has committed to creating, restoring or conserving natural environments over an area to be determined, which will be of equal ecological value.”
Leblanc said there’s still no indication of where Northvolt will create new wetlands to compensate for those that will be destroyed to build the facility.
The company had started felling trees on its 170-hectare site, which straddles the municipalities of McMasterville and St-Basile-le-Grand, but it stopped late last week after the injunction request was filed by the environmental group and three citizens.
Marc Bishai, another lawyer with the environmental group, said the group isn’t trying to derail the project but rather to ensure the rules are respected.
“We consider that destroying now and protecting later, without having enough information to ensure we control the environmental impacts, we think it’s a decision that’s certainly questionable,” he told reporters.
He said a court victory for his group could result in the project being sent back for study, but he hopes it would not cause too long a delay.
Lawyers representing the Quebec government, Northvolt and the town of St-Basile-le-Grand were expected to address the court on Wednesday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2024.