Almost immediately after the town of Prévost, Que., passed a bylaw banning natural gas this autumn, the 12,000-person community was hit with a lawsuit from Quebec's gas utility, Énergir.

Énergir argued the new bylaw, which bans gas infrastructure in new buildings and requires property owners to replace dated gas appliances with sustainable alternatives, was "unreasonable," "discriminatory" and exceeded the municipality's jurisdiction.

This marks the first time in Canada that a gas utility has sued a municipal government over its rules, and the decision could have lasting repercussions on municipalities' ability to protect the environment, explained Marie-Noëlle Foschini, co-ordinator of Sortons le Gaz, a coalition of Quebec environmental groups supporting municipal efforts to ban natural gas.

"This is really about long-term infrastructure," explained environmental lawyer Calvin Sandborn. "If you ban the construction, then you're avoiding decades of gas infrastructure being embedded in the community."

Fossil fuel heating is responsible for about 13 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is composed of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than CO2. Producing it releases huge volumes of methane gas into the atmosphere, in addition to the CO2 generated when it is burned.

Prévost is not the only Quebec municipality to pass restrictions on natural gas infrastructure — Montreal passed its own ban in October — but was targeted because its rules are the most comprehensive, Foschini said. Where Montreal is only prohibiting gas infrastructure in new buildings, Prévost's rules apply to retrofits as well, meaning the town will eventually no longer need gas at all.

Despite differences in provincial rules governing municipalities and between Quebec and other provinces' legal systems, the ruling could be "persuasive" to judges in future similar cases, explained Sandborn. "It would not be definitive," but might "be looked at as precedent."

The case has led to an upwelling of support to back Prévost’s decision. Several other Quebec municipalities passed resolutions publicly pledging their support for the town. The dispute has even prompted the organization representing Quebec municipalities to re-examine its ties to Énergir, one of its primary funders.

The lawsuit puts the Union de municipalités du Québec (UMQ) in an "uncomfortable" position, said president Martin Damphousse in an interview with Radio-Canada. Énergir gave the group $42,500 in 2022 and routinely advertises at its events. The UMQ will hold a meeting next week to "see everyone's comfort level" with the relationship, said Damphousse.

Almost immediately after the town of Prévost, Que., passed a bylaw banning natural gas this autumn, the 12,000-person community was hit with a lawsuit from Quebec's gas utility, Énergir. 

The case comes as municipal governments across Canada and the U.S. are taking similar measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. From Nanaimo, B.C., to Montréal, dozens of communities are considering similar rules — often in the face of pushback from gas utilities.

In Quebec alone, three municipalities — Montreal, Mont-Saint-Hilaire and Candiac — are making or have made similar moves as Prévost.

Further west, several municipalities are considering bans on fossil-based natural gas in new buildings, but provincial regulations have forced them to allow so-called "renewable natural gas." This is gas made by capturing methane from landfills, organic waste or manure.

The loophole has prompted B.C. gas utility FortisBC to fight for permission to brand natural gas as "renewable," even if biogas facilities only account for a tiny fraction of its supply. This designation would let the company skirt municipal rules prohibiting the use of fossil-based natural gas in new buildings and is condemned by experts as greenwashing.

The province's only community to successfully implement a ban, Nanaimo, was slammed with pressure from the fossil fuel industry in the run-up to its decision. Notably, the city council was swamped with mail from the Alberta-based Canadian Energy Centre, a publicly funded provincial corporation created by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney.

Back in Quebec, Énergir's decision could have significant "collateral" impacts on its future in the province, Foschini said. The energy giant is owned by Quebec's provincial pension fund (CDPQ) and capital investment fund (Fonds de solidarité FTQ). The lawsuit runs directly against these organizations' social and environmental values, raising questions about their future relationships with the company, Foschini said.

"All this should play out in the next few weeks or months. This could really lead to a tectonic shift regarding Énergir's role in Quebec," she said.

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I only wish that some of our wisdom could contaminate « dinosaurs » such as Danielle Smith, Scott Moe, Doug Ford and Pierre Poilièvre

The whole approach to all our greed, neglect, and miss use of The earth needs to be Seen by all. Government bodies looking one way, corporates looking another, people in general only think of themselves all creating nothing. No solutions, no steps forward, actual not really being taken with any seriousness with us looking into only one disaster at a time. We are just sheep under the wolfs rule.

Well, I certainly hope Prévost wins. I wonder what the legal environment is like--what kind of grounds the corp has for the suit and how deeply embedded in the law those grounds are. If they were a foreign company they could probably take advantage of certain "free trade" agreements and their ISDS, Investor-State Dispute Settlement, mechanisms, illustrating why we need to not have those. So, are there features of domestic law that need to be modified to cut the legs from under corporate lawsuits about this kind of thing?

Energy companies don't run municipalities, people do, Energir needs to be put in its place, Anticosti Island comes to mind as an example.

Incredible that these dirty energy polluters have the audacity to sue concerned citizens trying to protect our planet. They have bought off almost everyone and now they threaten municipalities with lawsuits. Time citizens unite against this plundering of our resources and massive propaganda these polluters spend greenwashing, trying to con the people. Sue Big oil!

To all the above comments, I will add that Énergir goes beyond the boundaries of Québec. If you read the link below, you will learn that Énergir provides gas and electricity to the neighbouring State of Vermont. SeeÉnergir