Over the last 2 plus years we have asked you on numerous occasions to submit comments about the Woodfibre LNG and Burnco projects proposed here in Átl’ḵa7tsem / Howe Sound.
As ‘the public’, we understood the ‘public comments’ had to be based on the applications these companies had submitted to the Environmental Assessment Office. Some of us thought it our job to go through thousands of pages application information, and other chose to simply to express our opinion about the projects.
What kind of comments were expected was never made clear to us, the Environmental Assessment Office never properly informed the public about this, other than that the comments would be ‘reviewed and considered.’ Any deeper questions would have the EAO staff point to colourful diagrams, which visualized when public comments were accepted. Overwhelming opposition expressed in comments for both the Woodfibre LNG and Burnco Gravel Mine projects were simply ignored.
We, ‘the public’, were left in the dark, but not only when it comes to making comments: The Story of Professional Reliance
Early in its 16-year reign, the BC Liberal Government ‘embarked on deregulating one-third of the regulations, coupled with an equivalent reduction in the size of the public service’.(1) The regulations for the resource industry had a special focus. The result was a new way of doing Environmental Assessments: professionals in the private sector, rather than government bureaucrats would oversee the environmental standards. The number of government scientist was cut, both on a provincial and federal level, the latter caused by the deregulation efforts of the Harper government. In BC, Environmental Assessment entered a new era of ‘Professional Reliance’.
In this model of Professional Reliance ‘the onus is on the proponent to say whether their project is going to have an impact or not’.(2) To assess the impact of their projects, companies have to hire consultants. In many cases these consultants plan and design the projects, do the environmental impact assessments, and draw the conclusions whether or not a project would have significant adverse [environmental] effects.
At the same time these consultants are dependent for future work on these same proponents, and there you have a massive conflict of interest. To ‘address this’, the BC Liberal Government regulated that professional accountability of these consultants ‘would be maintained primarily through the enforcement’s codes of ethics and the disciplinary processes of professional associations, rather than through the approval of plans, permits and licenses by government agencies’.(3)
The problem with the Professional Reliance model is that the government’s agency assigned with the task of managing the environmental reviews, has to judge the merits of the proponent’s conclusions. The agency assigned the task of managing the reviews is the Environmental Assessment Office. It likes to portray itself neutral, but with the funding and staffing cuts that were part of the initial deregulations too, neutered is a more accurate word to describe its ability to judge the proponent’s conclusions for their correctness.
At the same time, Harper’s cuts to federal agencies and departments and gutting environmental protection laws have had their effect as well. Where in the past a better staffed Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), could rely on strong regulations and well-staffed provincial and federal agencies to provide input into the environmental assessments, since 2005 the EAO is a shadow of its former self and so are the environmental assessments its manages. As well, enforcing the Environmental Certificates and keeping check on consultants through the Professional Reliance model doesn’t seem to be on the AEO’s radar at all.
What are we do now to do with our comments for the Burnco Gravel mine proposal in McNab Creek?
What continues to stand out is that it is a ludicrous idea to dig a gravel pit in one of few remaining natural estuaries in a recovering Átl’ḵa7tsem / Howe Sound. Especially when we know how important natural estuaries are as nurseries for aquatic life.
Secondly, as described above, the Environmental Assessment process is broken which is something the new BC Government acknowledges. It is currently reviewing the Professional Reliance model which at the heart of the Environmental Assessment process.
So this is a great time to make our selves heard!
If you want to comment to the Environmental Assessment Office about the Burnco project, I would suggest keep it short. The deadline is Monday November 27, 10am. You can Submit your comment on the EAO Burnco Gravel Mine Project information page.
What we really want you to do is to take your comments about Burnco and the broken Environmental Assessments process, right to the Minister of Environment, George Heyman, and the Minister of Minister Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Michelle Mungall.
Send your email to Minister Heyman and Minister Mungall with this link
It is best to write your own original letter. Please use the information above, and make it your letter, that way it will have most effect!
You can find more information about McNab Creek and Átl’ḵa7tsem / Howe Sound on our ‘Stop proposal for gravel mine at Kw’ech’ténm / McNab’ page
The report (pdf format) about Professional Reliance written by the Environmental Law Centre in Victoria is an eye opener.
(1) and (3) ‘Professional Reliance and Environmental Regulation in British Columbia’ – Environmental Law Centre – Feb 2015.
(2) ‘ Who is watching B.C.’s environmental watch dogs?’ – BC Business – July 2015