Home News Uproar mounts over Northvolt 

Uproar mounts over Northvolt 

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Ross Montour spoke alongside environmental activists at a press conference in Montreal last Monday, March 18. Courtesy David Suzuki Foundation

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Ross Montour was in Montreal this week alongside environmental groups calling on Quebec to submit the Northvolt mega-lithium battery plant to an environmental assessment process.  

Activists with Greenpeace, Équiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Nature Quebec all gathered at a press conference this Monday. They say public trust is being eroded because citizens and First Nations aren’t being properly consulted about the project and how it could impact the environment.  

“You have to take into account the potential impact of your decisions on the faces that are still in the earth and the faces yet to come, or as some people say, the seven generations,” Montour told the room, mentioning the Great Law of Peace. “If you can’t meet that basic criteria then you really need to think about the kinds of decisions you’re making.” 

The factory for the production of electric car batteries is set to be in operation by 2026 and will be located across 170 hectares of land between Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville. Nearly 14 hectares of wetlands with at-risk species will be destroyed to make way for the plant, which has been the subject of widespread condemnation ever since the province approved it. Construction is already underway. 

In late January, the MCK launched a legal challenge against Northvolt and the provincial and federal governments in the hope of halting the project – one they were not consulted on and didn’t consent to being on their traditional territory, Montour reminded the room. 

“The mining of lithium, everything I’ve seen and read so far leads me to question if this is a good thing for the environment,” the Council chief said, adding “Your great-grandchildren’s grandchildren won’t be able to eat that money.” 

The environmental activists there say they’re concerned about the Quebec government’s growing tendency to weaken environmental regulations surrounding major industrial projects and how they get approved, one that’s accelerated since the pandemic, when a new law was passed to accelerate infrastructure projects.  

In February, the government also increased the production threshold needed to trigger independent environmental reviews on lithium-ion battery factories in Quebec from 50,000 to 60,000 tons. Northvolt’s application meanwhile proposed a project capable of producing 56,000 tons leading to speculation the province bended the rules with Northvolt in mind. 

“They’re creating a new process for this specific industry, for this specific company,” said Marc-André Viau, director of government relations with Équiterre. “Is the trade-off worth the destruction of wetlands? For this specific case, I don’t know,” he said, adding the public has largely been left in the dark.  

Questions about emissions that will result from the plant, what’s to be released into the neighbouring Richelieu River, and how much the company will need to withdraw from it once it’s in operation are among some that have gone unanswered. 

“We have a lot of questions that we didn’t receive any answer for,” said Jacinthe Villeneuve, a McMasterville resident part of a citizens’ coalition against the project. 

“We are asking the government to respect democratic processes, to be transparent, and to work on restoring public trust,” added Alice-Anne Simard, executive director of Nature Quebec. 

Montour said Northvolt will also be on the agenda at an upcoming meeting with the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) later this month.  

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on March 22 in issue 33.12 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.