Province failed to punish Progress Energy for unauthorized dam construction, Sierra Club claims

Lawsuit of the week

The Sierra Club of BC Foundation is taking Progress Energy Ltd. and the executive director of the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office to court, claiming the B.C. government wrongfully gave retroactive permission to operate two dams built by the company without environmental assessment certificates.

The Sierra Club filed a petition in BC Supreme Court on October 31 seeking to quash decisions of the executive director finding that the two dams were exempt from requiring assessments.

“Both dams were built years prior to the request for an exemption, and years before the exemption itself was granted,” the petition states.

According to the petition, Progress is a subsidiary of Malaysia-based Petronas, and the two dams are used to store water for its natural gas fracking operations northwest of Fort St. John. The Town dam was built in 2012 and the Lily dam in 2014, the Sierra Club claims. In 2016, the Environmental Assessment Office was notified that the dams were operating without environmental assessment certificates or exemptions. An inspection last year “found Progress Energy to be in violation of [the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA)] for constructing both projects without an environmental assessment certificate,” the petition states.

However, the company sought exemptions from the Environmental Assessment Act, which the Sierra Club publicly opposed because the act “does not permit non-compliance to be remedied though an exemption, nor does it permit retroactive granting of an exemption in this case; it would be inappropriate to issue such an exemption in these circumstances; and the importance of compliance with the EAA and deterring violations.”

“Neither the exemption requests nor the project descriptions of Lily Dam and Town Dam provided any explanation from Progress Energy for the noncompliance with the EAA,” the petition states.

The company was granted the exemptions in July 2018, but the Sierra Club claims they were impoperly granted retroactively and failed to “consider the importance of promoting compliance with and deterring violation of the EAA.”

“At the time of filing the petition, no fines have been levied against Progress Energy for construction and operating [of] two dams without required environmental assessment certificates or exemptions.”

The petition’s factual basis has not been tested in court, and Progress Energy and the executive director had not responded to the claims by press time.