Northern Pulp has received the terms of reference it must use in an environmental assessment for its proposed reopening of the Pictou County pulp mill, and they do not contain the detailed pollution standards parent company Paper Excellence wanted.
"The [environmental assessment] process does not propose or identify specific effluent and emission limits," the Nova Scotia government noted in the 53-page terms of reference document released this week.
"It is up to the proponent ... to determine the overall impact of the project and recommend specific limits that a particular receiving environment can support."
Paper Excellence has said the modernization would cost $350 million, eliminate sulphur odour and significantly reduce the volume and contaminants in treated effluent.
The company wanted the province to use federal pulp and paper effluent regulations as the basis for objectives in the terms of reference. It responded in a statement that it was disappointed.
"We will take some time to review the terms of reference in detail and consider our options going forward," Paper Excellence said in a release.
The province ordered a Class 2 environmental assessment for the modernization, which would include a new effluent treatment facility. The review is expected to take two years.
Specific emission, effluent and water usage limits will be authorized in separate approvals granted after the environmental assessment is completed, the province said in its terms of reference.
A forest industry lobby group condemned the absence of hard targets.
"How do you run a race when you don't know where the finish line is?" said sawmiller Robin Wilber, CEO of Elmsdale Lumber and chairperson of Friends of a New Northern Pulp.
"Nobody wants to build a plant that's not environmentally friendly. But how do you pass an environmental assessment that has no standards? No company in any industry would like to come to Nova Scotia and set up shop or try to set up shop when there's no standards that you have to meet."
Friends of the Northumberland Strait, a group that opposed a previous mill plan to pump treated effluent into the strait, said Northern Pulp must demonstrate its proposal will not cause adverse effects or significant environmental effects that are unacceptable and that cannot be mitigated.
"For more specific standards, it is necessary for Northern Pulp to carry out a number of studies in the area in which they propose to operate. And until those studies are complete, it is not possible for specific standards to be given," said spokesperson Jill Graham-Scanlan.
She accused the company of trying to change "the laws of environmental assessment in Nova Scotia" by spelling out what it wanted to see in the terms of reference.
"We are thankful that the Department of Environment and Climate Change did not bow to that pressure from Northern Pulp," she added.
The company is currently suing the province of Nova Scotia for $450 million over its decision to shut down the mill's old effluent treatment facility 10 years before its lease expired. The closure of the Boat Harbour facility forced the mill to close two years ago.