On Jan. 10 the B.C. government certified Innergex/Creek Power Inc.’s Upper Lillooet River diversion project against the wishes of many SLRD residents who seek to protect Pemberton’s stunning backcountry and the wildlife that live there. The fact that this project was certified highlights how defective B.C.’s environmental assessment process is. Some of its most glaring problems are: the legislation governing the process, Liberal government policies, the information submitted by proponents, which informs the assessment, and the lack of meaningful public consultation.
Environmental assessments are governed by the Environmental Assessment Act (1994), which has been watered down by amendments and the policies of successive Liberal governments. The act’s initial objective was to “promote sustainability by protecting the environment.” The Liberals deleted this objective in 2002 and further weakened the act by requiring that the environmental assessment process be consistent with government policy. Remember Premier Christy Clark’s government actively promotes the export of liquid natural gas “as a cornerstone of British Columbia’s long-term economic success” (and tinkered with the Clean Energy Act to define natural gas as clean green energy).
Another flaw in the environmental assessment process is that the latter mostly relies on information regarding the project’s potential environmental, social and economic impacts that is gathered by expert consultants paid for by proponents. This raises questions about the independence of the information, or at the very least what information the proponents chooses to share with the Environment Assessment Office (EAO), which oversees environmental assessments, and by extension the public. Government experts are tasked with reviewing and commenting on the information submitted by proponents, but the former are overwhelmed by the vast amount of information submitted by the hundreds of proponents thanks to the gold rush mentality in B.C. and government cutbacks.
In the case of the Innergex/Creek Power Inc.’s Upper Lillooet River project, government experts stated, for example, that the project’s impacts on grizzly bears could not be “meaningfully mitigated.” The EAO largely dismissed the impacts as being merely “adverse residual effects” that were not “significant,” as they can be “mitigated” and/or “compensated.” It is shameful that the government does not even listen to its own experts, but rather negotiates with the proponent regarding so-called “mitigation measures.” Innergex has a history of not complying with flow management regulations in its SLRD river diversion projects, resulting in fish kill and damage to fish habitat, so these environmentally devastating incidents are likely to occur in the Upper Lillooet River.
The Environmental Assessment Act provides for public and First Nation consultation, but the EAO and Innergex/Creek Power Inc. dismissed the comments of local residents and other BCers who oppose the project. Public consultation is meaningless given that the process is all about certifying the proponent’s project. The EAO has rejected very few projects and most of the ones that the EAO has not certified are because the proponent has withdrawn from the process.
In a press statement issued on Oct. 30, 2012, Terry Lake, the Minister of Environment, stated that B.C.’s environmental assessment process is approaching his goal as being one “that is held up as a model around the world.” Local residents in Pemberton, other B.C. voters and B.C.’s Auditor General see the process very differently. I will vote for a party that actively protects the environment, including by placing a moratorium on all river diversion projects and by strengthening B.C.’s environmental protection laws and policies. The selling off of public land and resources to private corporations for private profit with no regard for the environment or wildlife has to stop. Idle No More, fellow BCers: about 1,000 rivers have been staked by independent power producers, so we need to increase our efforts to protect our wild rivers and backcountry.