Failed environmental assessment process leaves backcountry at risk

A recent report by the Auditor General of British Columbia has confirmed what many in the area have already suspected: the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) ability to protect environmental values has been proven to be sub-standard, says Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald.

The July 4 report entitled An Audit of the Environmental Assessment Office’s Oversight of Certified Projects concluded the following:

The EAO’s oversight of certified projects is not sufficient to ensure that potential significant adverse effects are avoided or mitigated. 

Specifically, the EAO is not ensuring that:

  • Certificate commitments are measurable and enforceable;
  • Monitoring responsibilities are clearly defined; and
  • Compliance and enforcement actions are effective. 

The EAO is not evaluating the effectiveness of environmental assessment mitigation measures to ensure that projects are achieving the desired outcomes. 

The EAO is not making appropriate monitoring, compliance and outcome information available to the public to ensure accountability.

“We rely on the Environmental Assessment process to first make good decisions about what projects should go ahead, and then to ensure that all mitigation measures are followed,” Macdonald said in a statement released on Friday.  “But it is clear that the EAO does not have the facility to actually make sure this happens.”

An environmental assessment certificate is a legal document that a proponent of a project must adhere to for the life of the project.  The certificate includes conditions, which are common to every project, and commitments, which are specific and critical to reducing adverse project impacts.

Commitments are made by a proponent to avoid or mitigate potential significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects of a project.

The EAO is then responsible for monitoring certified projects throughout their life.

“The Auditor General has said that the EAO is failing in its responsibility to monitor current projects,” Macdonald said.  “So projects are going ahead, sometimes against the wishes of the people in the area, and even the most basic requirements that are put in place are being ignored.

“In the case of so many of these projects, local people have little or no say about how the land will be used.  We are asked to just trust the government to make a decision and to trust the authorities to make sure that developers follow the rules.  But not even that is happening.”

Macdonald has been an outspoken advocate for improvements to the democratic process that would ensure that local people have the largest say in land-use decisions. Local contentious projects include Jumbo Glacier Resort and the Beaver River private power project.

“People in this area are passionate about finding the best use for our backcountry.  We deserve to have a process that includes and respects local knowledge and opinions.  And we have to have confidence that the Environmental Assessment actually works.”

Click here to read the report.