Environmental lawyers say removal of an important oversight leaves environment and communities at risk
VANCOUVER – The BC government has quietly passed two Orders in Council removing the requirements for environmental assessments of sweet natural gas processing plants and ski and all-season resorts. The Orders, which were deposited yesterday, were made without public consultation and despite widespread concern about the social and environmental effects of both industries.
The Orders amend the Reviewable Projects Regulation under the Environmental Assessment Act, apply to both new facilities and modifications, and will mean that in future major resort developments like the Jumbo Glacier Resort and some natural gas processing facilities may not trigger a BC environmental assessment.
“These regulatory changes only heighten the crisis of public confidence in BC’s environmental assessment process,” says Jessica Clogg, Executive Director & Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association. “Environmental assessments are supposed to allow the public and regulators to better understand and avoid potential risks. Removing the requirement for an environmental review is not in the public interest.”
The Environmental Assessment Office asserts that the legal changes are designed to reduce duplication with regulation by the Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“These changes go far beyond avoiding any possible duplication,” says Anna Johnston, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law. “Environmental assessments are an essential and distinct part of any development process. With these changes, the province has eliminated the kind of fact-finding process and analysis that is required for responsible decision-making.”
“Public participation is necessary for social buy-in,” says Johnston. “Governments can only keep restricting citizens’ rights to have their say in the projects that affect them for so long.”
This week’s weakening of BC environmental assessment laws, comes on the heels of the repeal and replacement of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with a new act that is widely considered weaker and less comprehensive.
West Coast Environmental Law Association