Environmental board ruling gets Unifor Local 2301 one step closer to limiting emissions at Rio Tinto smelter


KITIMAT, BC, Dec. 8, 2015 /CNW/ - Unifor Local 2301 has cleared an important legal hurdle in its battle to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. Following a successful judicial review in September 2015, the Environmental Appeal Board has now accepted the union's challenge to increased SO2 emissions.

"We have grave concerns that Rio Tinto's smelter expansion was rubber stamped with no consideration for the impact on our community," said Sean O'Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. "The government needs to explain how it approved a proposal for a multi-billion dollar industrial project on the same day it was received."

Unifor is appealing the October 7, 2014 decision by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to approve a $5-billion expansion to the Kitimat smelter without stronger measures to mitigate SO2 emissions. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.

The union is also seeking for an explanation from the BC government about why one of the key MOE employees dealing on a full-time basis with the new smelter was on the payroll of Rio Tinto.

"Something is rotten about the whole approval process," said Scott Doherty, Assistant to the Unifor National President. "We're going to keep pushing until we get answers about why the health of this community took a back seat to political expediency."

Unifor is arguing that installing SO2 scrubbers to improve air quality would not harm the productivity of the smelter, but rather it is an expense that Rio Tinto has no interest in paying for.

The next step in Unifor's challenge is to apply for disclosure of documents related to the MOE decision.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 310,000 workers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions merged.