Complaints and suggestions for the current environmental review process were voiced to an expert panel at a public engagement session in Prince Rupert last week.
For two days, Dec. 8-9, the federally-appointed panel listened to presentations from industry stakeholders, as well as indigenous and conservation groups on how to improve the system.
When an industrial project is proposed, such as the Pacific NorthWest LNG export terminal, The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is responsible for ensuring that the project will not adversely effect the environment within federal jurisdiction.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna was mandated with improving the current environmental review process. The expert panel began public consultations in September and will continue taking submissions until Dec. 23.
The Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority’s environmental assessment manager, James Witzke presented on issues relating to all Nations, including lack of consideration, or assessment of socio-economic impacts both on and of reserve communities, lack of adequate long term environmental monitoring process and a lack of adequate cumulative effects assessment or management.
Prince Rupert Port Authority’s director of environmental planning, Jack Smith, stated that “during the assessment of project impacts, we believe that the current federal legislation is an effective guide to community consultation and consideration of environmental factor.”
However, he said that environmental assessments should be timely and predictable with clear objectives for the responsible authorities involved.
The panel review session also attracted speakers from other regions affected by the CEAA process.
The current process lacks public confidence in the system, said Nikki Skuce, from the Northern Confluence Initiative based in Smithers.
Skuce was the first presenter and stressed that there needs to be collaborative decision making with First Nations, and that changes be made to the Fisheries Act.
“In the past, there used to be a link when an authorization is required under the Fisheries Act that would trigger a federal environmental assessment, (after the 2012 changes to the CEAA) it no longer does and we want that back. So that fisheries, fish and fish habitat is a trigger for an environmental assessment with the CEAA,” Skuce said.
The expert panel is also taking comments on the National Energy Board, Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act, which the government intends to review and modernize.
An organization from Alaska was also present. Jill Weitz, manager of Salmon Beyond Borders, was there to address her concerns that there needs to be more federal engagement in projects that have trans-boundary implications.
There are three watersheds that border southeast Alaska and northwest B.C., the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers north of the Nass and Skeena rivers. Within those watersheds there are more than 10 large scale mines at different stages of development.
“Currently, we have no meaningful stake or seat at the table. The State of Alaska has worked with B.C. in the last year to essentially create this statement of cooperation, which is a good first step but does not give enforceable protections. They don’t have the authority to establish those and enforce those,” Weitz said.
For projects that have trans-boundary implications, between provinces and international boundaries, Weitz said the environmental review should be federal and not provincial.
Her concerns elevated after reading the B.C. Auditor General’s report in 2016 that suggested compliance and enforcement in the mining industry is failing, she said it’s clear the province is not doing their job.
Public consultation began in September and the panel will continue taking submissions until Dec. 23. The panel was looking for suggestions as well as concerns.
“We are desperately looking for solutions because this is a forward-looking exercise,” said panel chair Johanne Gélinas.