The first agreement of its kind between two Tsimshian First Nations and two senior levels of government has led to the creation of an Environmental Monitoring Committee to oversee the Pacific NorthWest LNG project on Lelu Island.
Mayor of Lax Kw’alaams John Helin and Chief Councillor of Metlakatla Harold Leighton will sit on the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC), along with a representative from the Government of Canada and a representative from the Government of B.C.The striking of the committee is a step in the right direction for protecting the North Coast, said both leaders of the Tsimshian communities.
“We have always maintained the view that the environment is most important to us and with this agreement in place, it will help protect the fish, waters and lands in our traditional territory. Any development can only take place if the necessary environmental protections are in place and this is an important step in that direction,” said Mayor Helin.
“Working together, we can ensure the safeguards are in place and LNG development respects the environmental values that are a priority for the Metlakatla First Nation,” said Chief Councillor Leighton.
The purpose of the committee will be to ensure the Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW) project is constructed, operated, maintained and decommissioned in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.
The committee will be part of the opportunity for the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams Nations to provide input to the project’s environmental management plans.
A separate Technical Committee, composed of representatives from Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, Transport Canada, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, the Ministry of Natural Gas Development and Oil and Gas Commission will be created to support the work of the EMC and co-ordinate the work of the four parties. It will meet quarterly.
Also involved in the environmental monitoring process are construction monitors – a team of environmental monitors on-site, as hired by PNW and its contractors, a designated Coast Tsimshian Monitor, selected by the Coast Tsimshian and carrying out the environmental programs to meet the needs of the Tsimshian communities, an Independent Environmental Monitor (IEM), as selected by all parties and PNW to conduct compliance monitoring, and regulatory authorities – federal and provincial government staff to carry out monitoring compliance oversight of the project.
“The idea to create this committee is based on input received from Indigenous peoples throughout the environmental assessment process to ensure protection of the environment through ongoing project monitoring and oversight. The committee encourages ongoing dialogue and collaboration with Indigenous peoples, which is at the core of our government’s reconciliation commitment,” said Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.
The IEM, regulatory authorities and Coast Tsimshian Monitor all provide information to the Technical Committee, which in turn informs the EMC.
B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad said in an interview with the Northern View that while there are many complexities behind the relationship between Tsimshian Nations, it was Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla that helped contribute their own findings as part of the environmental process.
“In particular there was a group that was put together that got to shepherd the environmental assessment process through. They provided assessment work that went into the environmental assessments, but the recommendation of course was between the two key Nations in there being Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams as part of the Environmental Monitoring Committee and the agreement associated with it,” said Rustad.
District of Port Edward council expressed an interest last year in being on the committee, but Rustad said that municipalities affected by the project will see the results and information as it becomes available, as all work done by the committee will be public.
“Clearly they have a significant interest in the project and in the environmental concerns as well … the work that’s being done here will be public work,” Rustad said.
The IEM is designated as a qualified professional with experience in environmental monitoring and will be chosen by the EMC, in collaboration with PNW. The company is responsible for retaining the IEM through all stages of the project’s lifetime.
The committee will base their oversight around areas such as tissue, noise, vibration, light, air, water, soil sampling and other forms of data collection.
The IEM also has the authority to stop work on the project that does not comply with regulatory requirements and will prepare and submit reports on PNW’s environmental compliance to regulatory authorities and the Technical Committee. The IEM’s reports won’t be reviewed or modified by PNW before submission.
Funding arrangements for the committee will be concluded at a later date and negotiated separately with PNW.