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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.

3 February, 2014

Our 2011 report, Professionals and Climate Change, made the case that climate change fundamentally impacts the work and ethical obligations of many different types of professions, and that the professional associations that govern those professions need to recognize that.  We are excited to see two recent developments demonstrating that engineers, at least, are grappling with the exciting question of the role of professionals and professional associations in addressing climate change:

  • a position paper released by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) – representing BC’s 29,000 engineers and geoscientists – on what a changing climate means for engineers;
  • the recent launch of Engineers for Carbon Ethics – who want to take that discussion one step further.

We hope these separate developments are just the beginning of further discussion, and meaningful action by engineers and other professions.

29 January, 2014

So how did the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) considering Enbridge’s proposed pipelines and tankers project conclude that a catastrophic spill of diluted bitumen (untreated oil sands oil, diluted so that it can be transported by pipe) on BC’s North Coast would only have a short-term impact on the environment? We suggest that the Enbridge JRP report is illustrative of two concerns that we’ve raised about changes to Canada’s environmental assessment laws:

  • Having environmental assessments done by the National Energy Board (NEB) undermines the potential for an unbiased and independent assessment;
  • Putting in place rigid timelines discourages assessing risks up front (which is the purpose of environmental assessment) and may result in environmental assessments being done on the basis of incomplete scientific information. 

In our view the process has been anything but the “science-based” process that Prime Minister Harper promised Canadians. The reality is that social licence can’t be rushed, and weak environmental laws hurt, rather than help, industry. As First Nations and others line up to challenge the Enbridge Pipeline in court, and as Enbridge continues to find itself unable to secure customers, that reality is increasingly clear.  

23 January, 2014

When the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) tries to detect violations of BC’s forest laws, do they put their efforts into detecting violations by large logging companies or small-scale operators?  It turns out that small-scale operators and individuals get over half of the attention of government inspectors, while large-scale logging companies are only the target of about 20% of the government’s inspections, despite holding the logging rights to around 70% of the province’s  forests. 

17 January, 2014

Canadians may soon know more about the chemicals being used to extract bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands, thanks to West Coast Environmental Law and our colleagues at Environmental Defence and the Association Québécoise de Lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQLPA).  But, unless the federal government can be persuaded to drop it’s narrow interpretation of pollution disclosure rules, Environment Canada won’t be requiring oil and gas companies to provide information about what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This means that most Canadians will have little to no knowledge of the potentially harmful and toxic chemicals being pumped into the ground in the fracking process, The federal government is consulting with the public until February 8th, 2014.

17 January, 2014

Finding consensus among British Columbians on the controversial Site C dam that BC Hydro is seeking to build on the Peace River is challenging.  But one thing that can’t be disputed is our need of food. Call it a universal truth: we need to eat. And so this week I went to Fort St. John to help residents, farmers and citizen groups protect regional and provincial food security against plans by the BC Hydro to flood almost 16,000 acres of farmlands for the sake of industrial development and energy exports.

16 January, 2014

The National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, in its recent report endorsing the Enbridge Pipelines and Tankers Project, argued the economic benefits of the project would trump the risks to the envrionment and all the public and First Nations opposition.  But the fact is that it is precisely that public and First Nations opposition, and their determination to prevent the environmental impacts, that make the Pipeline and Tankers project an economic dead end.  The JRP Panel report seems to recommend that the project go ahead, but reading the report closely, it’s clear: if we hold the wall, the Enbridge Pipelines and Tankers Project is going nowhere. 

6 January, 2014

The beginning of the year is a good time for planning, setting goals.  And with 2014 shaping up to be an important year for environmentally minded Canadians, here, briefly, are our top 3 resolutions for the coming year.

20 December, 2013

We’ve reviewed the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Compliance and Enforcement Annual Reports from 1998 to 2012.  And what we've found raises a whole lot of questions - dramatic declines in inspections and in the fines imposed on the forest industry, but stable levels of enforcement action as a whole - what's going on?

18 December, 2013

On Thursday, December 5, 2013, members of the Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of six First Nations in northern BC who have banned the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines from their territories, held an anniversary celebration for the Save the Fraser Declaration in Vancouver. The anniversary consisted of the addition of a new First Nations signatory to the Declaration as well as the launch of the Save the Fraser Solidarity Accord, where a diverse range of Canadian organizations and individuals committed to stand with First Nations that have banned Enbridge’s Northern Gateway from their territories.  West Coast Environmental Law Association was honoured to be there to sign the Accord.

12 December, 2013

The BC government yesterday released the names of 18 businesses and 155 individuals who have not paid court fines for environmental offences committed between 2004 and 2012.  Collectively, these individuals owe $1.54 million that the courts ordered paid to the Province or the Habitat Conservation Trust. We celebrate the news that the names of environmental offenders that don’t pay for their crimes will be published is welcome, even though there continue to be other fundamental problems with environmental enforcement in BC.