Scathing report raises environmental concerns

British Columbians should be shocked by a scathing auditor general’s report exposing major flaws in the environmental review process for major projects.

British Columbians should be shocked by a scathing auditor general’s report exposing major flaws in the environmental review process for major projects.

The report is devastating and contradicts past government claims about a rigorous reviews and careful monitoring. And the failures should surely have been obvious if anyone in government had been paying attention.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office is responsible for reviewing and approving major developments – mines, dams, new resort communities and the like. Right now, it has more than $30 billion worth of projects under review.

It can reject proposals, in theory. But that has only happened once, while 115 projects have been approved.

But when the office issues an environmental assessment certificate, it does include commitments the developer is legally required to meet to minimize environmental damage. The office tries to ensure that the impact of projects is mitigated by these measures.

Auditor general John Doyle looked at that aspect of the office’s operations. It was a dismaying exercise.

The Environmental Assessment Office doesn’t know if the conditions it imposes in approving projects are “measurable and enforceable,” the audit said. The wording is often weak – companies are ordered to “try” to avoid damage, for example. As a result, the developers can’t be held to account for violating the legal conditions of their permits.

And anyway, the auditor general found, the office makes no real effort to check on whether the commitments are being obeyed on the ground.

There was a pilot program that saw inspectors actually visit development sites, to see if the rules were being followed and if they were achieving the desired environmental goals. But the program was cancelled.

The assessment office relies on compliance reports from the companies. But some companies don’t send them in and there is no formal system for tracking the reports or specific problems.

Doyle also found the Environmental Assessment Office fails to provide enough information to the public to allow accountability.

None of this is to suggest companies or developers are setting out to do environmental damage. And other government agencies, in some cases, are also checking environmental performance.

But it’s simply reality that some operators will cut corners and take shortcuts. Some measures will prove ineffective and could be adjusted – if the office was actually visiting the sites.

Without an effective assessment and monitoring process, needless, lasting damage could be done.

The report is bad news for Premier Christy Clark. Like Gordon Campbell, she has insisted the province’s process is tough and effective.

And both have argued that it shouldn’t be necessary for major projects to go through both federal and provincial reviews.

That’s a tough sell when the province’s efforts are questionable at best.

The provincial assessment process was already being questioned. It approved the Prosperity mine southwest of Williams Lake, judging the environmental damage – which included turning a lake into a tailings dump – as acceptable given the economic benefits.

But a federal review came to the opposite conclusion, and the Harper government said no to the mine. (The company subsequently decided it didn’t need to destroy the lake after all, but the project still has not been approved.)

Clark lobbied Stephen Harper to reverse the decision, presumably citing the B.C. environmental review. His refusal looks wise at this point.

B.C. is resource-rich and development – whether of new pipelines, mines, resort towns or run-of-river power projects – brings jobs and economic growth. There has been a significant boom, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

But governments have insisted they are doing an effective job of protecting the environment by imposing strict conditions on companies to ensure damage is minimized.

That’s not happening.

The auditor general has offered a damaging critique of a cornerstone of environmental protection. It’s up to Clark to respond with an effective plan and funding.

Footnote: Environment Minister Terry Lake wouldn’t respond to the report; he said he wants to meet Doyle first. That’s baffling. The government gets auditor’s reports well in advance so its response can be included in the published version. The minister should have been ready.

Willcocks@gmail.com

Just Posted

Protestors blocking Columbia Avenue Saturday evening. Photo: Betsy Kline
Old growth protesters begin 24-hour blockade of Castlegar’s main street

Members of Extinction Rebellion plan to stay overnight

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

SD20 now has an electric bus. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay-Columbia School District 20 adds electric bus to fleet

Bus will be incorporated into Castlegar route for next school year

Painting by Dave Davies from Shaver’s Bench facing Teck Trail.
Happy 120th Birthday to the City of Trail!

The town of Trail Creek- or Trail Creek Landing - was incorporated as a city on June 14, 1901.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read