Northvolt megafactory | The opposition and environmentalists outraged by the words of Benoit Charette

“Surreal”, “scandalous”, “unacceptable”; the opposition and environmental groups are taking aim at the Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, who argued in an interview with The Press that the Northvolt mega-factory project would have been derailed if it had had to undergo an evaluation by the Bureau d’audiences publique sur l’environnement (BAPE).

“I am outraged and Quebecers are right to be too. We knew the CAQ government was insensitive to environmental issues and the climate crisis, but at this point, it’s surreal,” reacted liberal environmental critic Virginie Dufour on Wednesday.

The MP is also asking for an emergency meeting with the minister “in order to shed light on the process that was put in place to get us to this point today. »

She reacted to an article in The Press in which Minister Charette had argued in an interview that “if I had told (the leaders of) Northvolt at the time that a BAPE, that would take us 18 months before we could give them an idea of ​​what would be possible, we would not have had a project in Quebec.”

“Playing the cheerleaders”

At Québec solidaire, MP Alejandra Zaga Mendez, also spokesperson for environmental issues, spoke of an “unacceptable” government position. “The CAQ is sabotaging the social acceptability of the project and harming the image of the battery sector, which is nevertheless essential to our energy transition,” added its colleague Haroun Bouazzi, responsible for the energy issue.

“The cat’s out of the bag. (…) The minister proves through his declarations that he is denying his responsibilities to protect the environment, ensure the conservation and development of biodiversity and play a key role in the climate transition, from a sustainable perspective, to play the cheerleaders of manufacturing development,” argued the PQ environmental critic, Joël Arseneau.

“It’s extremely worrying,” responded Me Merlin Voghel, lawyer at the Quebec Environmental Law Center (CQDE). “This is symptomatic of what we have deplored from the start: undeclared exchanges behind closed doors on issues of public interest. The continuing lack of transparency is all the more unacceptable as it is a public investment,” he insisted.

Patrick Bonin, one of the spokespersons for Greenpeace, considered the minister’s comments “scandalous”. “The government is changing its lines of communication and confirming that a tank battery manufacturer is dictating its rules at the expense of democracy and the environment,” he said.

Charette defends herself

In interviews with Radio-Canada and 98.5 FM on Wednesday morning, Minister Charette for his part reiterated that “if we had not been able to give the company an answer sooner, it would most certainly have chosen another location “.

However, he pleaded that he “never said that we helped the company avoid a BAPE”. “Quebec did not have regulations to encourage the establishment of a battery sector. This is what we have developed over the last year, but in no way with the aim of favoring one company to the detriment of another and never with the aim of circumventing the regulations to avoid a BAPE,” argued the minister on Radio-Canada.

Mr. Charette also pointed out that barely four organizations had submitted a brief last year, during consultations on regulatory changes linked to the battery industry. According to our information, in addition to Northvolt, the Order of Chemists of Quebec, the Eau Secours organization and the Énergie Valero company then made representations.

It is as part of this regulatory modification, in April 2023, that Northvolt asked Quebec to raise another threshold which determines whether or not a project is subject to the BAPE. This is an indicator of annual battery production capacity.

The Legault government planned to set it at 30 gigawatt hours (GWh), while the company suggested 40 GWh, but instead of raising the threshold, Quebec ultimately set aside this regulatory threshold, saying it was incapable of assessing its real risk.

All this occurs when a little earlier, in mid-February, The Press revealed that Northvolt had held discussions with the Legault government without registering with the lobbyist register. Contrary to what the company claimed, these exchanges took place well before the government changed the rules to avoid an environmental assessment.

With Jean-Thomas Léveillé, The Press


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