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Environmental groups criticize Quebec's lack of transparency, want registry created

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Environmental groups gathered in Montreal on Monday morning to call for compliance with regulations, including the creation of a public register of environmental information.

Équiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, Nature Québec, the Société pour la nature et les parcs (SNAP Québec) and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake are concerned about the government's "tendency to weaken environmental regulations."

They reiterated their call for the Northvolt project to be subject to the environmental assessment process, which includes an environmental assessment (BAPE), but also demanded that the government enforce the law and commit to creating a public registry of environmental information.

The Environment Quality Act (EQA) has been in force since March 23, 2018. Section 118.5 of this Act stipulates that the Environment Minister must maintain a public registry containing a wide range of information on industrial projects and activities.

For example, the register must contain the description and source of contaminants caused by a project, the type of discharge into the environment, or the conditions that a proponent must meet, prohibitions and specific standards applicable to the activity.

Six years after the law came into force, the register still does not exist.

"If we had had this register in the case of Northvolt, we could have had access to all the documentation. We wouldn't have had to wait months for documents that are slowly coming out with a lot of incomplete information," said Nature Quebec director Alice-Anne Simard, at a news conference.

She pointed out that a number of media and environmental organizations had tried to obtain information on the environmental impact of the Northvolt plant, notably through the Access to Information Act, but that "we are only receiving a few pieces of information after months of waiting" and "redacted documents."

 According to Simard, the lack of transparency fosters public distrust and undermines the social acceptability of a project such as Northvolt's.

"The register is provided for in the law, and we've been asking for it for six years, so the government should be obliged to put it online," she said.

"We're focusing recently on Northvolt, but our various organizations have denounced many other projects throughout Quebec in recent years. Projects that have taken advantage of the shortcuts and flexibilities allowed by this government," the environmental groups said in a joint news release.

They are also concerned about the government's intention to review the terms and conditions of the BAPE.

"The means chosen for the energy transition must not contribute to worsening the crisis by destroying natural or agricultural environments of great economic, social and ecological value: strategic environments that are becoming increasingly rare and are of great value to the health and safety of the population," the groups said in their release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 18, 2024.

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