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Beyond Pipelines: Managing the Cumulative Impacts of Resource Development in BC

West Coast Environmental Law Dialogues for Legal Innovation Series

On February 26, 2013, opinion leaders and decision-makers came together to engage in a dialogue about the challenge of managing the cumulative impacts of past, present and future human activities on BC’s ecosystems and communities.

Click here to download a written summary of the Dialogue.

Dialogue Background

Every once in a while a major environmental issue –like logging in Clayoquot Sound or the Enbridge tankers and pipeline project –galvanizes British Columbians to speak up for the environment and a more sustainable future for our children. Meanwhile, the combined impacts of many human activities on our land and water, some individually small, have continued to build.

BC currently lacks a legal framework to proactively and comprehensively manage the cumulative impacts of multiple resource developments within the same region, including the effects of climate change. The impact of this gap can be seen starkly in the northeast of the province, where 65 percent of the Peace region has already been impacted by oil and gas development, logging, mines, large dams and other industrial infrastructure, leaving few intact natural areas.

Meanwhile, the northwest of the province stands on the cusp of a dramatic transformation with proposed developments including 17 mines entering production, dozens of advanced mineral exploration projects, 5 hydroelectric transmission lines, 182 water licence applications for run-of-river projects, and multiple liquefied natural gas projects –not to mention the proposed Enbridge tankers and pipelines project running the full length of the province.

Climate change is further complicating matters, whether it is water shortages in the Interior or the threat of sea level rise on the coast. In the Lower Mainland sea level rise linked to climate change will create additional significant land-use challenges for coastal ecosystems and communities.

These impacts are cross-cutting and cumulative, affecting entire regions of the province, yet the jurisdiction needed to craft effective responses is fragmented across many different governments, agencies and authorities.

What's more, existing regulatory tools for local governments are primarily focused on the demands of urban growth and the development of infrastructure without reference to environmental constraints or values, while BC’s resource management laws, which were developed alongside the regulated industries they enable, engender a ‘siloed’, proponent and project-driven approach that is a root cause of the problem. For example, today, many of BC’s rules about land and water protection are found in laws focused on specific industries like the Forest and Range Practices Act, Oil and Gas Activities Act, and Mines Act.

A cumulative impacts lens challenges us to improve our laws by placing the primary focus of assessment and management on the needs of the land, water and people themselves rather than the resources to be extracted. It requires us to identify what we value, and the attributes of those values that can be measured, managed and maintained over time to ensure the integrity of the environment and human well-being (typically called “valued components”). And in the 21st century this exercise must fully integrate the compounding impacts of climate change.

Meeting this challenge will almost inevitably require new institutions and governance mechanisms and new legal tools.

The response to the Dialogue was very positive. Here are a few comments we received:

"Thank you all SO much for the extremely informative evening. This is what we need - dialogue! I am an average person concerned about the decisions being made for these large projects and am trying to become informed. Your panel was excellent. Please relay a big thank you to them and I loved the song at the end."

Opening Remarks:

Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Dialogue Participants:

  • Gerald Amos, Director of Community Relations, Headwaters Initiative
  • Jessica Clogg, Executive Director & Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law (MODERATOR)
  • Denise Dalmer, Director, Environment and Sustainability, Business Council of British Columbia
  • Tom Ethier, Assistant Deputy Minister, Resource Stewardship Division, Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations
  • George Hegmann, P. Eng., M.E.Des., is a Principal and Practice Leader at Stantec
  • Gwen Johansson, Mayor, Hudson’s Hope, BC
  • Valerie Langer, Director BC Forests Conservation, ForestEthics Solutions
  • Tara Marsden/Naxginkw, MA, Gitanyow Huwilp Lax'yip Implementation Coordinator, Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs
  • Dr. Faisal Moola, PhD., Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada, David Suzuki Foundation and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto
  • Anna Warwick Sears, PhD, Executive Director, Okanagan Basin Water Board
  • Lindsay Staples, Principal, North\West Resources Consulting Group
  • Mark Zacharias, Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Ministry of the Environment
     

Click here for a full list of Dialogue participant bios.

Dialogue Resource Materials:

West Coast’s Dialogues for Legal Innovation Series brings together diverse perspectives to help shape solutions to complex legal and policy issues, like cumulative impacts management, that affect the well being of British Columbians and our communities.

West Coast Environmental Law is grateful to the Law Foundation of British Columbia, The Bullitt Foundation, the North Growth Foundation, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Vancouver Foundation, the Conservation Alliance, the Gencon Foundation, Patagonia, the Bruce and Lis Welch Community Award, as well as the SFU Centre for Dialogue for funding to make possible our work on cumulative impacts law reform and this event in our Dialogues for Legal Innovation Series.