Quebec environmental groups file motion against Energy East

MONTREAL -- A coalition of environmental groups is taking legal action in the hopes of subjecting the Energy East pipeline project to Quebec's environmental regulations.

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The group filed a court motion Thursday and argued TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., the company behind the project, has ignored repeated government requests to file a project notice with the province's Environment Department.

Michel Belanger, a coalition lawyer, said an industrial project of such magnitude should not be able to bypass provincial regulation.

"In the absence of a project notice, the government has had to jump through hoops to come up with an alternative process," Belanger said. "If that can happen for a project like this, it's worrisome for the future."

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) has not replied to the Quebec government's requests for formal notice, saying Energy East is subject only to federal regulation.

The coalition says Quebec's environmental regulation agency, which is set to begin hearings on Energy East on March 7, has been given a "truncated mandate" because of the absence of impact studies.

"The government has tried to proceed in other ways but they don't give citizens legal guarantees and, above all, it doesn't give Quebec any power of authorization over the project," Belanger said.

Belanger said the Quebec government has ignored its own Environment Quality Act, which states that any pipeline more than two kilometres long is subject to a mandatory environmental impact assessment and review procedure.

The coalition has asked the Couillard government to delay the start of the hearings until after the court rules on the motion, and Belanger said he hopes to hear back from Environment Minister David Heurtel by Monday.

"For the moment, we're sticking to a letter," Belanger said. "We'll see later if we need to take more serious measures."

TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said Thursday the company is committed to participating in Quebec's environmental hearings, which he called a "credible and rigorous" process.

"It will be an opportunity for us to answer the questions posed by commissioners and the public about Energy East," he said in an email.

Quebec is expected to use the regulation agency's report when it submits its official position to the National Energy Board during the federal hearing process.

The $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude as far east as Saint John, N.B., serving domestic refineries and international customers.

The project has run into stiff opposition in Quebec, with the mayors of Montreal and surrounding municipalities arguing that environmental risks outweigh the economic rewards.



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