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Environmental Law Alert Blog

Through our Environmental Law Alert blog, West Coast alerts you to environmental law problems and developments affecting British Columbians. It is the public voice of our Environmental Law Alert unit which is a legal “watchdog” for BC’s environment.

If you have an environmental story that we should hear about, please e-mail Andrew Gage. Also, please feel free to comment on any of the posts to this blog – but please keep in mind our policies on comments.

10 March, 2014

With the BC Legislature’s Spring Session in full swing, there are lots of new, proposed laws to read and comment on, and we’ve been drawing your attention to legislation that we view as problematic (related to Parks and ownership of lakes, for example), but not all of the news is bad.  We’re happy to see the BC government moving to regulate Off Road Vehicles (ORV) with a new Off Road Vehicle Act (Bill 13) – an initiative that we’ve been supporting for well over a decade and which is long overdue. 

7 March, 2014

Can a private resort company own a lake?  If so, are the fish in the lake private or public?  And can the resort keep the public from fishing in that lake?  These critical questions are central to a David vs. Goliath battle unfolding in BC’s Nicola Valley that could have huge implications for all British Columbians.  And Bill 5, which has been introduced in the BC Legislature, raises concerns that the BC government might be about to side with Goliath.

25 February, 2014

A little more than a week ago (on February 13th), the Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP) awarded its first ever “Climate Change Innovators” Award to Alex Woods, a Forest Pathologist working for the BC Government.  The launch of this award, a clear statement on the importance of addressing climate change in professional forestry, comes just over a month after the ABCFP released a Climate Change Position Paper – Climate Change, Forests and the Practice of Forestry.  Professionals who advise their clients on the basis of the best available science on climate change, and are accountable to the public when they do not, are doing us all a service.  We’re excited that BC professional associations – including the ABCFP – seem to be leading the way on this conversation.

21 February, 2014

When U.S. President Obama met with Prime Minister Harper earlier this week, he highlighted the importance of considering climate change in key energy decisions, like the Keystone XL, but was polite enough not to highlight that Canadian energy decisions do their best to ignore climate change.  The reality is that building fossil fuel infrastructure, and dramatically expanding the oil sands, cannot be divorced from the consequences of those actions.  Canadians would all benefit from a decision-making framework that transparently and realistically assessed the costs of the fossil fuel future that we are building.  Right now our government seems to be tallying up the benefits side of the equation, but ignoring the costs side. 

20 February, 2014

In June 2012 word went around our community that Pioneer Forest park - heavily used from 1966 - was going to be sold. The information about the pending sale of the park found its way to some concerned citizens who were not about to let this happen. We engaged Patrick Canning, an environmental lawyer, to help with our battle and were thrilled to receive a Grant from the West Coast Environmental Law Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund. After a long process, the forest has now been transferred to the City of Nanaimo and is a dedicated park.  We are so very grateful to the financial support of West Coast Environmental Law and the legal expertise of Patrick Canning, our lawyer. Without them I don’t know if it could have happened.

14 February, 2014

It feels a bit like déjà vu. Once again we’re faced with a federal government study that was highly relevant to the environmental assessment of the Enbridge pipelines and tankers project, but which was not considered in the assessment because it was released too late.  Like an earlier Environment Canada report, this Transport Canada report is highly relevant to the issues that were before the Enbridge JRP.  In fact, the Transport Canada report directly considers the marine risks posed by Enbridge’s pipelines and tankers proposal, concluding for example that Enbridge’s project would raise the Environmental Risk Index rating for the nearshore zones in the vicinity from “very low” to “very high.”  In circumstances where there are significant risks, uncertainties or other complicating factors, hard and fast cookie-cutter timelines for environmental assessments can do the Canadian public a disservice.  This is well-demonstrated by the federal government’s apparent inability to meet its own deadlines in the Enbridge JRP scenario with regard to the Transport Canada and Environment Canada reports. 

14 February, 2014

The BC Parks Service says that the provincial parks and conservancies are a “public trust” for the “protection of natural environments for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public.” These noble sentiments are difficult to square with Bill 4, the “Park Amendment Act, 2014”, introduced yesterday (Thursday, February 13th) into the BC legislature.  Bill 4 allows for industry (and others) to carry out “research” in provincial parks related to pipelines, transmission lines, roads and other industrial activities that might require park land.  It also reduces legal protection for smaller parks and enables film production in BC parks. 

7 February, 2014

You may have heard our sister organization, the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation, mentioned last night on CBC’s Power and Politics; Power and Politics discussed whether current audits of environmental charities were politically driven. In the current political climate it is important to remember that charities have an important, and entirely legal, role to play in public (even political) discourse and that Canadians have benefited enormously from advocacy work by charities connected to their core purposes of protecting the environment, human health, and other important Canadian values.

6 February, 2014

Tuesday night (February 4th) the City of Chilliwack passed a bylaw intended to allow the development of a controversial hazardous waste recycling facility immediately adjacent to the Fraser River.  That’s a mistake on so many levels – but the law allows local governments to make mistakes. But the law does require the City of Chilliwack to hear from the public in a fair and open way.  That’s West Coast Environmental Law wrote to the City of Chilliwack to recommend that it hold off passing the bylaw, and instead re-open public hearings into the contentious rezoning. Chilliwack's public notice made no mention of hazardous waste and the site's proximity to the Fraser River, and the final version of key documents were not available to the public at the time of Chilliwack's public hearing. 

4 February, 2014

A current BC Ministry of Environment public consultation on "administrative penalties" under the Environmental Management Act and the Integrated Pest Management Act is a good thing for environmental enforcement in BC.  Administrative penalties fill a gap between the government's main enforcement tools - charges and tickets.  They give officials within the Ministry of Environment the authority to decide on and impose penalties in the course of their own “administration” of the Act – without needing to turn to courts.  Unlike tickets, the penalties can be significant, but can also be tailored to the individual circumstance.  Since they don’t need to involve complicated, expensive and scarce court resources, they are more likely to be used by the Ministry of Environment. However, we'd like to see the government's regulations and policies on administrative penalties include minimum penalties for some offences and ensure that polluters know that they are certain to face stiff penalties if they break the law. The government consultation continues until February 21st, 2014.