A court decision preventing environmental groups from challenging an environmental approval relating to a liquified natural gas project on the East Coast has been overturned.

Initially, the Ecology Action Centre and New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance were denied their bid for a judicial review of an environmental approval for a highway realignment, needed for Goldboro LNG, an on-again, off-again project in Guysborough County.

On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling, which means the case will be heard.

In summer 2021, Alberta-based Pieridae Energy said its land-based proposal for an LNG plant wouldn’t move forward due to financial concerns. However, in spring 2022, plans resurfaced: first, as a floating barge off the coast of the province, and then again as an operation on land, according to the CBC. The project is set to liquify natural gas piped in from Alberta before it’s shipped to Europe.

Construction of the proposed Goldboro LNG export facility would take place near Dung Cove in Guysborough County, N.S. Screenshot via Google Maps

The appeal court found the environmentalists had raised significant points about the potential harm of emissions from the LNG facility and toxic contamination from the highway project.

The project faced immense opposition when it was first proposed. As reported by Canada’s National Observer, there was pushback from Mi’kmaw groups in Nova Scotia and advocates in Alberta and Massachusetts. They were concerned about the infrastructure required to produce the gas and the potential harm to community safety from the work camps that would pop up while construction was underway.

In 2014, a provincial environmental assessment was granted by Nova Scotia to Pieridae, with work expected to start in 2016. The approval came with conditions, including the submission of a greenhouse gas management plan, which this week’s court decision notes has not been submitted.

When Pieridae was granted environmental approval to realign a nearby highway in April 2021, the environmental groups objected on two fronts. They argued the company had failed to produce a greenhouse gas management plan and that the realignment would expose toxins from abandoned gold mines in the area. They also stress that allowing a separate assessment to be conducted for the highway alignment is flawed because it doesn’t consider the overall environmental implications of the actual LNG facility — the sole reason for the road project.

“This decision corrects course and ensures that members of the public can have their day in court and seek to hold their government and industry actors to account for unlawful actions," said @ecojustice_ca lawyer James Gunvaldsen Klaassen.

Canada’s National Observer reached out to Pieridae for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication. Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change said it has received the decision and is “reviewing it now to determine any next steps the province will take.”

Ecojustice, which is representing the environmental groups, said this week’s decision is important because public interest standing is a necessary way for individuals and environmental groups to hold both government and industry accountable.

“[The] decision is a major win not just for our clients, but for access to environmental justice in Nova Scotia. The availability of public interest standing in Nova Scotia had been considerably narrowed in recent years,” said lawyer James Gunvaldsen Klaassen.

“This decision corrects course and ensures that members of the public can have their day in court and seek to hold their government and industry actors to account for unlawful actions. The decision also emphasizes that it is the environmental and climate impacts of a project that matter, not the nature of the project itself.”

The groups said the fight is still underway, but that this week’s decision will allow them to focus on tackling their concerns with Goldboro LNG in court.

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