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Officials helped Northvolt get the green light

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb16,2024

The biologist who accompanied the company to prepare well is the same one who signed the final evaluation.

Officials helped Northvolt get green light

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Prime Minister François Legault, during the announcement of the largest manufacturing project in the history of Quebec, September 28, 2023. (Archive photo )

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Northvolt benefited from four-star service from the Quebec Ministry of the Environment to help it obtain the green light for its battery mega-factory project. Affidavits from officials, filed in Superior Court as part of a lawsuit against the project, show that the civil service began preparing the authorization six months before the application was officially filed. .

It all starts with a refusal. On March 2, 2023, the Ministry of the Environment rejected the residential project presented on the same land by the company MC2, from the promoter Luc Poirier and his associates, on the grounds that it is unacceptable from a point of view environmental.

Two weeks later, on March 17, the Ministry of the Economy communicated with Stéfanos Bitzakidis, an executive at the Montérégie Regional Environment Department. During the meeting, we told him about another project planned at the same location: that of Northvolt.

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The vast land of the project, straddling McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand, in Montérégie.

Four days later, on March 21, a new meeting was organized, to which the biologist from the Ministry of the Environment Raphaëlle Dubois was invited. It was she who had recommended, a few days earlier, to refuse the MC2 project. He is asked to present to his interlocutors the environmental constraints of the site where Northvolt wants to set up.

In the upper echelons of government, we think while Northvolt can succeed where MC2 failed. Three days later, on March 24, the Swedish company registered with the Quebec lobbyist register.

In the months that followed, the ministry asked its biologist and other colleagues to participate in several pre-project meetings with Northvolt and the company's consultants, WSP Canada. Over the course of the meetings, the project evolves and adjusts to the recommendations of officials.

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It happens that the ministry supports an authorization applicant in particular in order to correctly identify the required forms, the documents and information to be provided as well as the studies required for the environmental analysis, explains Raphaëlle Dubois, in her sworn declaration.

This support allows the filing of a more likely to be complete and meet regulatory and ministry requirements.

A quote from an affidavit filed in Superior Court by the biologist from the Ministry of the Environment of Quebec, Raphaëlle Dubois.

On August 29, the biologist and her colleagues believe that the company's plan is adequate from an environmental point of view and on September 6, Northvolt officially submitted its request for ministerial authorization.

I was then appointed to take charge of analyzing the request, says Raphaëlle Dubois, in her written testimony. At that time, Quebecers had no idea of ​​the project that had been brewing for several months behind the scenes, before being announced with great fanfare on September 28.

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The Northvolt project was presented as acquired on September 28, even though it had not yet obtained the environmental green light.

In the affidavit of the project director at Northvolt, Johanna Toupin, we discover that it was the Swedish company which requested to meet with representatives of the ministry in order to plan the submission of the application for assistance. ;authorisation.

She says that, as part of the discussions, the ministry shared its observations and recommendations with Northvolt.

Pre-project support is a common practice, explains to Radio-Canada the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, Marjorie Larouche. It allows the applicant to become aware of the environmental criteria applicable to his project with the aim of making his application as complete as possible at the time of its submission.

What percentage of promoters benefit from this service? The ministry did not respond to us. It is not done equally with everyone, indicates a ministerial source.

In 2020, Radio-Canada revealed the existence of an internal directive from the ministry which ordered civil servants to implement a new “culture of #x27;customer support.”

We must take care of every request as if it were ours, as if we were the promoter.

A quote from Marc Croteau, then deputy minister at the Quebec Ministry of the Environment, in an internal memo, February 25, 2020

He We need to improve customer service with developers, Minister Benoit Charette confirmed at the time.

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Benoit Charette, Minister of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec.

Is it normal that the same official who helped Northvolt prepare is the one who carries out the final evaluation of the application? The ministry tells us that the file was handled rigorously and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

The analysis of the Northvolt project was carried out according to the same guidelines and criteria as all the projects treated by the Ministry.

A quote from Marjorie Larouche, spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of the Environment.

Northvolt obtained its authorization on January 8, 2024, four months after the official submission of its application. According to a compilation produced by Radio-Canada, the average delay is 15 months in Montérégie to obtain authorization to destroy wetlands.

The Swedish company has already admitted to being in a “race against time” to set up its battery factory. Northvolt has made a contractual commitment to a customer to deliver certain cell samples in July 2026 and to begin manufacturing production in July 2027, we can read in the affidavit of the project director, Johanna Toupin. p>Open in full screen mode

The co-founder and CEO of Northvolt for North America, Paolo Cerruti on the deforestation site.

I strongly believe in collaboration, as early as possible, says the president of the Association of Biologists of Quebec, Marie-Christine Bellemare. This makes it possible to address sensitive elements from the start and avoid backtracking which is costly in time and money.

According to her, it goes faster and in the end, everyone wins.

She also sees no problem in the fact that the same biologist from the Ministry of the Environment accompanied and then evaluated the company.

It's a bit like the police who are responsible for giving contraventions, but who are also responsible for prevention.

A quote from Marie-Christine Bellemare, president of the Association of Biologists of Quebec

She wonders, however: Were the analysts able to have the professional leeway to make their good recommendation? According to her, if biologists were recognized as an order, with a code of ethics, the public would be able to know whether the studies were carried out in due form.

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The general director of SNAP, Quebec division, Alain Branchaud

For his part, the biologist and director of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP) in Quebec, Alain Branchaud, says he is used to it, but always surprised and shocked, when he sees this type of practice.

According to him, the officials who accompany the promoters allow them to bypass regulatory and legal obstacles. He gives the example of the objective of the Environmental Quality Act which is, above all, to avoid harming the fauna and flora, before thinking about minimize the impact and then, as a last resort, compensate for it.

He mentions the ban on cutting trees between April and August to protect migratory birds. We will support the developers so that the wood cutting takes place during the winter or fall, but in the end, we end up destroying the habitat.

It's surprising that we don't have a firewall between those who are there to protect the fauna and flora, and those who are there in a support process.A quote from Alain Branchaud, biologist and director of the Society for Nature and Parks in Quebec

He fears that in the case of projects like Northvolt, we're going a little too fast and maybe cutting corners.

In 2020, the ministry's new support culture was roundly criticized. A civil servants' union recalled that its members work to defend the environment, and not to be promoters of business projects.

L&#x27 The opposition had accused the CAQ government of being the promoters' maid. The National Assembly finally adopted a motion which reminded the Minister of the Environment that his only "client" is the common good.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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