EDMONTON — Alberta won’t appeal a court ruling that was highly critical of the province for preventing environmental groups from voicing concerns about an oilsands project.
Last month a judge threw out a decision by a government official who refused to allow the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition to speak at a review into the proposed Southern Pacific Resource Corp. mine near Fort McMurray.
The judge ruled the decision was biased because a government memo stated the coalition should be denied after it had been publicly critical of the oilsands.
Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen said Wednesday the coalition is welcome to apply again to be heard at a regulatory review of the project.
She would not say if the new application would be approved.
“It is important that all directly affected Albertans share their environmental concerns with us on industry projects,” McQueen said.
“Moving forward, we will continue to ensure that each and every potential statement of concern is reviewed on its own merits.”
Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, one of two organizations that make up the coalition, welcomed the government’s decision not to appeal.
He said the coalition will resubmit its application to have a regulatory review hear its concerns about the mine, including how it would affect dwindling numbers of woodland caribou and the amount of fresh water it would use.
Dyer said the real test of whether the government has learned from the court ruling will be how it deals with the new application.
“We are pleased that the government has acknowledged that it needs to follow the law but disappointed the government hasn’t apologized or admitted it made a mistake,” he said.
“We will wait and see. We look forward to the government accepting our new statement of concern. We think there are legitimate issues we want to put on the public record.”
The coalition had routinely been given standing before, but this time was rejected on the grounds it was not directly affected by the project. The group has a licence to occupy land for recreational purposes downstream of the mine site.