New industrial growth in the Kitimat area would not damage people's health or the environment as long as emissions are properly managed, B.C.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said on Friday as she released a government-commissioned report.
"We want to ensure any potential impacts from industrial air emissions are clearly understood before new projects are approved," Ms. Polak told reporters at a press conference.
"This study tells us that with proper management, there is significant capacity in the Kitimat airshed to safely accommodate industrial growth while still protecting human health and the environment."
An airshed is an area where terrain and weather conditions can trap pollutants, causing smog and breathing problems.
Located on the B.C. coast at the head of Douglas Channel, Kitimat is in a valley surrounded by mountains, and industrial emissions can become trapped there.
Kitimat has been a trade and industrial centre for decades and is now being considered as a hub for liquefied natural gas operations, with at least four LNG facilities possible in the region.
Last October, the province commissioned a study of emissions from an existing aluminum smelter and proposed new LNG terminals and other facilities.
A request for proposals issued last October called for the report to be completed by March 31, 2014. The date on the report posted yesterday is April. But it was not made public until Friday.
In the meantime, it had become the subject of a tug-of-war in an Environmental Appeal Board proceeding, in which two Kitimat residents – Elisabeth Stannus and Emily Toews – are seeking to have a permit that was granted to the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter last year overturned for health and environmental concerns.
The 2013 permit allowed Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions from its smelter by about 56 per cent.
Lawyers for the pair have been trying to obtain the Kitimat airshed study, arguing that it would provide the most up-to-date information on air quality in the region.
The province claimed in recent correspondence the report was subject to crown privilege. Lawyers for the appellants in the EAB case then asked the agency to order the province to produce the study. The EAB had asked the province to reply to that request by July 18 – when it released the report.
"This is a study that the [ministry of environment] should have had in hand and disclosed to the public before it granted Rio Tinto Alcan permission to increase its SO2 emissions," Chris Tollefson, a lawyer with the Environmental Law Centre, said Friday in an e-mail.
"We are confident the EAB will agree that this was a case of government rushing a permitting decision – a decision that is not scientifically defensible."
An EAB hearing on the smelter permit is scheduled for October.
Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver called the study a "nail in the coffin" for plans to put multiple LNG facilities in and around Kitimat.
Dr. Weaver, a climate scientist who has contributed to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that even the lowest-emission scenarios considered in the study would have serious consequences in some areas.