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Summer Student Series 2021: Erin MacDonald

Photo Credit: Edwin Andrews Photo Credit: Edwin Andrews

September 13, 2021

This summer I had the opportunity to work as an intern with East Coast Environmental Law. I applied for the position because I have a background in science, an interest in species protection, and an overall fondness for research. These interests and skills were developed, in part, while I completed an undergraduate degree in Science with an Honours in Biology prior to entering law school at the University of New Brunswick. Reflecting on my time as a summer student, I realize what a phenomenal opportunity I had, working on meaningful projects that effect everyday people throughout the Atlantic provinces. I entered law school because of a desire to help, and this summer I had the privilege of working with an organization that does just that, so I am very grateful.  

My favourite part of the summer was conducting research on small modular nuclear reactors ("SMRs") and how they are, or are not, assessed through environmental impact assessment processes in New Brunswick (they do not necessarily trigger federal impact assessments). SMRs are small (less than 300 megawatt) nuclear reactors that produce energy without emitting carbon. Despite this, SMRs are not a form of clean energy because they leave behind radioactive waste and use massive amounts of water. There are plans in New Brunswick to build SMRs as part of an exciting nuclear project at Point Lepreau, Saint John, and this makes nuclear energy a contentious issue in the province. 

East Coast Environmental Law is hosting a public information workshop in the autumn, to educate New Brunswickers on provincial and federal environmental impact assessment processes that apply to proposed projects in the province. The objective of the workshop is to enable the public to better understand environmental impact assessment so that they can engage in upcoming project assessments, such as for SMRs.  

I also worked on another interesting project that focused on open-net pen aquaculture in Nova Scotia. Open-net pen aquaculture is when there is free exchange between farmed fish and the surrounding natural environment. This is contrasted with closed containment aquaculture, where farmed fish are separated from the natural environment. 

The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over aquaculture in British Columbia by virtue of its jurisdiction over fisheries, following the Morton decision in 2009, and has implemented a plan to transition from open-net pen aquaculture to closed containment aquaculture in the province. This is because closed containment aquaculture poses fewer environmental risks due to the separation between farmed fish and the natural environment. Currently, the Government of Nova Scotia has asserted jurisdiction over aquaculture in Nova Scotia, and there is no plan to transition to closed containment aquaculture. One of my tasks this summer was to produce materials for the public that explained this complex interjurisdictional issue. This was challenging, but, with support, it was a great learning experience. 

I am so grateful to have worked with East Coast Environmental Law this summer. I worked on exciting projects, received feedback from talented and devoted environmental lawyers, and had the opportunity to grow as a student and future lawyer. I will certainly integrate the skills and knowledge that I learned this summer into the projects I tackle next.

 Erin Blog Photo

Erin MacDonald

Erin's work with us was funded by the Canada Summer Jobs program.