Monday, December 04, 2006

Environmental Assessment Law Weaker Under B.C. Liberals

{This entry, first published as a letter to the Williams Lake Tribune Thursday November 30, 2006, p.A5, concerns the two coal-fired power plants currently being considered for construction in Princeton and Tumbler Ridge. In my view, these projects should either be cancelled or delayed until the feasiblity of carbon sequestration--possibly financed by federal-provincial-industry partnership--has been thoroughly examined.}

November 25, 2006

Dear Editor:

At the local forum on climate change on November 16, I learned that just one of the new coal-fired power plants being planned for Princeton and Tumbler Ridge is expected to produce 1.3 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, and that if both projects go ahead, emissions for the entire B.C. electricity sector can be expected to more than double. No doubt the B.C. Government would say that both of these projects are being subjected to a thorough Environmental Assessment (EA). I am not so easily reassured.

BC’s Environmental Assessment Act was rewritten in 2002, replacing one of the country’s most progressive provincial EA laws with one of the weakest laws. Strong provisions that were eliminated include a purpose section emphasizing sustainability, requirements to examine cumulative effects, the need to detail alternatives, and innovative public participation requirements, including a mandatory role for First Nations. All of these functions are now being performed more ‘flexibly’ and ‘efficiently’ by a more ‘streamlined’ Environmental Assessment Office.

You might think that a strong case for a federal environmental assessment exists, and it does. The national and indeed international dimensions of coal burning (i.e. global warming and Kyoto obligations) are obvious. Federal review panels also generally provide the most comprehensive EAs in Canada. But don’t hold your breath waiting for effective federal oversight. The 1998 Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization contains a Sub-Agreement on Environmental Assessment that aims at avoiding “duplication”, in part to answer extensive complaints from the business community about compliance costs. In this case, the B.C. coal industry also happens to be a major contributor of funds to the B.C. Liberal Party.

That just leaves the citizens of British Columbia. If Premier Campbell and Minister of Environment Barry Penner actually asked all British Columbians whether they would be willing to forego a cheaper supply of energy and undertake strenuous conservation and alternative energy efforts in order to be part of the solution to global warming instead of being a steadily worsening part of the problem, they might just be surprised by the answer.

Mark Crawford
3744 Hillside Road Williams Lake, B.C. V2G 5A2 tel. (250) 989-0483

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