2017 Harvest

2017 Harvest

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hanna challenge to Ontario setbacks for wind turbines dismissed by Divisional Court

In a decision released late last week, the Ontario Divisional Court has rejected a challenge by Ian Hanna of the Ministry of the Environment's minimum setbacks for wind energy projects.  The application for judicial review challenged the promulgation of sections 35, 53, 54 and 55 of O. Reg. 359/09 made under Part V.0.1 of the Environmental Protection Act (“the EPA”). The title of the regulation is the “Renewable Energy Approvals Regulation.” The affected sections in the regulation prescribe minimum setback requirements for wind energy facilities and require that they conform to the Ministry of the Environment’s published “Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms.” The regulation came into effect on October 1, 2009, following a period of public consultation ending July 24, 2009.

Section 11 of the Environmental Bill of Rights, S.O 1993, c. 28 (the “EBR”) requires the Minister of the Environment to “take every reasonable step to ensure that the ministry statement of environmental values (the “SEV”) is considered whenever decisions that might significantly affect the environment are made in the ministry.”  Hanna submitted that s. 11 of the EBR establishes a condition precedent for the decision by the minister to recommend promulgation of the regulation, and a breach of that condition renders his decision, and the regulation, ultra vires (or outside the authority of the minister).  In particular, the ministry’s statement of environmental values sets out principles the ministry will apply in developing Acts, regulations and policies. One of those principles is that “the ministry uses a precautionary science-based approach in its decision making to protect human health and the environment.”  Hanna contended that the minister failed to consider that “precautionary principle.”

In the end, the three-member panel of the Divisional Court found that the minister did comply with the process mandated by the EBR when he prescribed a setback requirement of 550 metres:
There was a full public consultation and a consideration of the views of interested parties. The ministerial review included science-based evidence, such as reports of the World Health Organization and the opinions of acoustical engineering experts. Cognizant of the possible health concerns the minister decided the minimum 550 metre setback was adequate. He made that decision knowing the adequacy of the minimum setback could be challenged in any particular case before a specialized tribunal.  In the context of the broad policy issues at play, the alternative protections provided by the Environmental Review Tribunal and the absence of clear evidence the 550 metre setback requirement is necessarily insufficient we find that the minister did comply with the requirement in s. 11 of the EBR, notwithstanding the “precautionary principle” in the statement of environmental values. The precautionary principle does not preclude the decision that was taken by the minister.
Read the decision at: Hanna v. AGO.