Last week West Coast Environmental Law told you about our letter to Commissioner Bruce Cohen, who has been appointed to investigate why the Fraser River sockeye salmon runs have collapsed. We were (and still are) concerned about the requirement in the Commission’s rules for standing that participants demonstrate that they have a “substantial and direct interest” in the Commission’s investigations. West Coast feels that this requirement could be interpreted as limiting opportunities for participation from public interest perspectives. This afternoon we received a reply from Kathy Grant, Junior Commission Counsel, in Commissioner Cohen’s office.
Ms. Grant’s e-mail responds with information about participants that is already available on the Commission’s website. It is also clear that the Commissioner is not planning at this time to revise his Rules for Standing and Funding to address West Coast’s concerns or relax the “substantial and direct interest” requirement to accommodate public interest participants. Moreover, the Commissioner will not make a ruling on what is meant by “substantial and direct interest” “in advance of an application for standing.”
To say much more is really to try to read into Ms. Grant’s e-mail more than is there. I’m tempted, on the one hand, to be discouraged by a suggestion that the Commissioner is limited by the Commission’s Terms of Reference and, on the other, encouraged by the suggestion that the list of considerations that the Commissioner will take into account in granting participant status is “open-ended” and that no one criteria is determinative. However, that’s really just speculation.
So the bottom line is that we’re going to have to wait to see how Commissioner Cohen handles applications for participant status from public interest advocates. We are optimistic that he will recognize the importance of equal participation for public interest perspectives.
One final note – In our original post we encouraged would-be applicants to get their applications in by the March 3rd deadline. You have a reprieve if you’re thinking of applying for participant status – the Commission has extended the deadline to March 10th, 2010.
By Andrew Gage