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Local governments stand for strong environmental assessment

October 3, 2010

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) met this past week (Sept 27th to October 1st), passing – and declining to pass – a wide range of resolutions, many of them touching on environmental issues. 

The decision which has many environmentalists – including West Coast Environmental Law – jumping with joy is the endorsement, on Friday October 1st, of 2 resolutions opposing the Enbridge Pipeline and endorsing a ban on tanker traffic on the province’s North Coast.  The momentum for a legislated tanker moratorium continues to grow, as does opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (the First Nations Summit passed its own resolution against the Enbridge Pipeline on the same day).  Yay!  Enbridge is, predictably, not quite so happy

ubcm-logo.jpgBut West Coast is also very encouraged by one resolution that didn’t pass.

Resolution A1 called for what it described as a “Harmonized Federal and Provincial Environmental Assessment Process”, but it actually called not for coordination or harmonization between the two levels of government, but for the creation of a single EA process.  

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia has successfully processed … environmental assessments in a more timely manner than the federal government has been able to;

AND WHEREAS many of these projects are important to the economic and social well-being of British Columbians throughout the entire province and lengthy delays in the environmental assessment process has the potential to cause many projects to be lost:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the UBCM support the initiative of the Province of British Columbia to combine the environmental assessment review processes of both the provincial and the federal government into one integrated process and urges the Government of Canada to support the initiative for the betterment of British Columbians and Canadians.

Readers of this blog know that we’ve written on previous occasions about the risks of uncritically rushing into a single provincial process without discussion of how we ensure that environmental assessment is effective and actually protects the environment.  The problems with the province’s environmental assessment process are becoming increasingly obvious. 

While one could envision a harmonized Process that had high environmental standards, West Coast is very concerned about a call for harmonization that characterizes environmental assessment … as a barrier to job creation, rather than recognizing the need for a strong assessment process.  In addition, some industries have been calling for a single process handled by the province that ignores the federal government’s environmental responsibilities.

We were very alarmed to learn of this resolution (unfortunately at a late date), which entirely failed to recognize the benefits of a strong environmental assessment process, had not only been endorsed by the North Central Local Government Association, but also that the UBCM Resolutions Committee was recommending that the UBCM endorse it (and another similar resolution).  One imagines that the mining industry, or other industries advocating for a single Environmental Assessment process based on the province’s process, had lobbied hard to get the resolutions before the UBCM. 

In general there was little organized opposition to the resolution from the environmental community.  Oh, there was a flurry of emails from West Coast Environmental Law and some of our allies shortly before the resolution came up, trying to make sure that environmentally-minded councilors would speak against the resolution.  But there should have been more.  As one environmentalist said, everyone was focused on the Enbridge and Tanker resolutions. 

The EA harmonization resolution was soundly defeated anyhow.  Perhaps the last minute flurry of emails helped, but it was defeated largely thanks to the common sense of the local government representatives attending the conference.  We understand that delegates speaking against the resolution noted that it was not well thought out and was “premature.”

I find it immensely encouraging to know that so many elected local government officials are so able to see through the provincial government’s attack on the federal EA process, and the mining industry’s calls for a single, diluted process. They know that good environmental assessment is not just “red tape”, and that we can’t rush to accept a single process simply on the grounds that it may help to create jobs. 

Of course, the failure of the resolution at the UBCM’s probably won’t prevent the province from continuing to call on Ottawa to stop doing separate environmental assessments.  Indeed, the defeat of the resolution didn’t even prevent Premier Campbell from used his speech at the UBCM Conference to reiterate calls for a single EA process.  But it’s still very encouraging. 

By Andrew Gage