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B.C. claims privilege on Kitimat report Add to ...

In an ongoing tussle over the Kitimat Airshed Study, lawyers representing two women in an Environmental Appeal Board case have asked that agency to force the province to turn over the study or explain its claim of cabinet privilege.

The study, which the province commissioned last year to weigh the impact of industrial emissions on the Kitimat Airshed, has yet to be publicly released, even though some groups interested in its conclusions – including the District of Kitimat – had expected to see it before the end of June.

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Now, the report is the subject of a tug-of-war between the province and appellants in the EAB case, which concerns sulphur dioxide emissions from the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat. The province says it received a draft of the Kitimat Airshed Report in March and that it is “now part of discussions around cleanest LNG requirements” and will be released later this year. For now, however, the government says the report is being discussed by cabinet and subject to Crown privilege.

Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus – the appellants in the EAB case – would like to see the report now, maintaining it would provide the most up-to-date information about industrial emissions in Kitimat.

The two women, both Kitimat residents, have asked the EAB to overturn a 2013 decision that authorized increased sulphur dioxide emissions from Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat smelter.

The smelter, which began operating in 1954, is undergoing a $3.3-billion upgrade that will boost smelting capacity and cut emissions of some pollutants, but increase the amount of sulphur dioxide coming from the facility by more than 50 per cent.

Ms. Toews and Ms Stannus are concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts of the increased sulphur dioxide emissions and, as part of their case, have been trying to obtain the Kitimat Airshed Study. In recent correspondence with the women’s lawyers, the province said the report was subject to Crown privilege.

On Friday, lawyers for the two women filed an application seeking to have the EAB require the province to hand over the report.

Current information before the EAB “suggests that the Kitimat Airshed Study is the most current, complete and possibly ‘best’ evidence as to several of the facts and issues central to this appeal,” the application states.

The lawyers for Ms. Toews and Ms. Stannus want the EAB to compel the province to release the study or require the government to elaborate on its claim of privilege “in a legally sufficient manner so that the Appellants may be able to assess and, if necessary, file a legal challenge to the validity of this claim.”

An EAB representative was not immediately available to comment on the application.

Currently, Kitmat only has one big industrial facility, the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter. A former methanol plant closed in 2005 and a paper mill closed in 2010. But there are proposals for several LNG facilities in the region.

An EAB hearing related to the Rio Tinto Alcan permit is scheduled for October. Rio Tinto Alcan has said that, on a per-ton basis, the new smelter will produce the same amount of sulphur dioxide as the old one and that a host of other, harmful emissions – including greenhouse gases – will be reduced as a result of new, more efficient technology.

The company also says its research found increased sulphur dioxide emissions would have minor potential impacts on soils, water, vegetation and human health and that any such impacts would be “manageable.”

On the health front, “studies show [sulphur dioxide] from Kitimat Modernization Project will not cause respiratory diseases in healthy people, but there may be a less than one per cent increase in restricted airway events for those with existing conditions such as asthma or COPD,” a company brochure states.

The company could install a scrubber to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions but has chosen not to, citing the limited projected impact of increased S02 emissions and the potential challenges involved with disposing of “scrubbed” sulphur dioxide.

“After looking at the comprehensive scientific studies that were conducted based on air-modelling technique and historical data, the impact of releasing our S02 into the air through a high stack was determined to be limited,” Rio Tinto Alcan spokeswoman Colleen Nyce said in a June e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “Therefore, Rio Tinto Alcan made the decision to not install a wet scrubber for the S02.”

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