HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's premier met with the union representing workers at the embattled Northern Pulp mill Wednesday, telling them he thinks the mill has a future -- but only if it meets environmental standards.

The mill's parent company has warned it will be shut down unless it can dump millions of litres of waste water directly into the Northumberland Strait.

Unifor's Atlantic regional director, Lana Payne, said the union stressed at a meeting with Premier Stephen McNeil Wednesday that the mill is vitally important to forestry sector jobs and to the 240 workers at the mill that the union represents.

Payne said the union told McNeil it believes there is a way forward to close the mill's current Boat Harbour effluent facility by the January 2020 deadline that will protect jobs and the environment and respect the wishes of First Nations.

"Our next step now is to push the company as much as we can to get the responses to what's required under the environmental assessment," said Payne. "We'll be pushing them to get that done as quickly as possible."

Last Friday the provincial Environment Department asked for more details on the proposal, which has put added pressure on the company.

The delegation included Unifor national president Jerry Dias, but he wasn't available for comment following the meeting because of travel commitments.

McNeil said nothing specific came out of the meeting, but he heard the concerns about the mill's future.

"I told them I still believe this mill can operate in the province," he said. "What we need is the company to focus on a project that can have a permit."

The union said it wants a meeting of all interested parties to try to resolve the dilemma around the looming deadline, but McNeil remains adamant the company needs to come up with an acceptable plan to close Boat Harbour.

"They need to be able to satisfy the fact that they can get a project that will meet the environmental standards of the province today -- that's the starting point. If they don't have that there's no option here."

Union local 440 president Don MacKenzie said the Environment Department's request for more information simply served to ratchet up tensions within the mill and the community.

"The clock's ticking," said MacKenzie, who is a 25-year employee at the mill.

"It was a day that we knew was coming and it did absolutely raise the level of apprehension."