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Case Studies - Case three:

LUBRICANT FACTORY EXPANSION - Ontario, 1995-1997

In September 1995, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) granted two certificates of approval — one for air and one for water — to Petro-Canada for an expansion of the lubricant production process at its Mississauga plant.

Prior to granting these approvals, the Ministry had received close to one thousand comments from the public, most of them requiring that an environmental assessment of the expansion be done.

Shortly after the approval, five separate individuals and groups, such as Residents Against Company Pollution (RACP), Greenpeace and Sierra Legal Defence Fund decided to fight it. The first hurdle the applicants had to cross was obtaining leave to appeal from the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB). The test to get the leave was very stringent and this appeal process generally requires ample resources (for legal representation and evidence collection). EAB still granted the leave on the grounds that: a) Director (from MOE) granted Petro-Canada more than they had asked for in their application for certificate of approval and b) Director did not determine what was necessary in the public interest.

The applicants now had to fight two formidable parties: the Legal Services Branch of the Ministry (defending Director’s approval) and Petro-Canada (defending the terms of the approval)

The proceedings were extremely costly. RACP ran out of money an had to continue without counsel and Greenpeace obtained funding from the Greenpeace Charitable Foundation.

After 19 days of hearing and a lot of expert evidence presented, the parties settled. Petro-Canada agreed to:

  1. modify its refinery to reduce sulphur dioxide by 80% by 1999;
  2. restrict the burning of bunker oil as fuel for the boilers in the existing facility;
  3. report on the status of sulphur dioxide emission controls to the Public Liaison Committee;
  4. provide $250,000 for research into airshed management.

The Petro-Canada case is a victory for the citizens who challenged MOE’s actions, and an illustration of how use of the Environmental Appeal Bard led to greater environmental protection. However, it also highlights the enormous costs and time commitments that citizen action requires. This case might not have been brought to a successful conclusion had it not been for the SLDF and Greenpeace.

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