Federal Environmental Assessment ReflectionsSubmitted By: Catherine Elizabeth Watson December 23, 2016
Submission to the Expert Panel on the Review of the Environmental Assessment Process
Catherine E. Watson
Let me begin by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to make a submission on such an important issue as the protection of the environment.
I am a semi-retired biologist and environmental advocate. I enjoy membership in the Arrowsmith Naturalists which is affiliated with BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists) of the Oceanside region on Vancouver Island. I live in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
My work experience had been in environmental assessment review for the provincial government of Alberta. I was also a consultant biologist to government and industry. I am also a professional mediator and very intersted in the use of environmental mediation as a potential avenue of collaborative work that can bring NGO's, governments and industry to work constructively towards solutions to the impacts of development on the environment and its inhabitants.
I think one of the most important issues for government regulators to consider and place great importance on is the need to recognize the sensitivity of certain regions in Canada that are being impacted right now by Climate Change. Arctic species are in great threat of losing their ability to sustain viable populations as a result of the rate of their habitat changing beyond their capacity to evolve. Human caused climate change is part of the baseline that must be considered in the regulation of project development in the Arctic.Other northern regions like bogs and peatlands do not recover from disturbances the same way that more southern regions can. These regions must be targeted to receive a higher level of scrutiny regarding potential impacts of development. There is no excuse for placing the economic argument before the risk of losing species and habitat permanently. That loss cannot be quantified in its impact on future generations.
The rationale behind the protection of the environment, particularly regions sensitive to disturbances, is multi-fold. We are an indicator of the health of our environment. Our physical and emotional strength is buoyed by our connection to a healthy environment. Canada sees hundreds of thousands of people visit our country every year to experience what we have and must protect. I've heard at the public submissions to the Expert Panel the integral connection between nature and Indigenous Peoples of Canada. I think non-indigenous people also must recognize that Canada cannot continue to develop lands and displace species without losing all the opportunities of knowledge that can be gained from understanding how a complex ecosystem thrives.Because of the intricate web of interactions of species we cannot just consider impacts on one species or one component of an ecosystem without considering the potential or cumulative impact on other species over time.
I therefore urge the Review Panel to employ methods that respect designated sensitive environments, such as protected marine parks and areas already under enviornmental stress and hold developers to higher standards to provide up to date evidence that their proposals ensure no negative impacts on these areas.
I think it is of the upmost importance for the federal government alone or in conjunction with their provincial counterparts, where there is overlap of responsibilities, to inform the public of their efforts to regulate industry to provide the best available scientific evidence to ensure that the environment is not affected negatively. Government must be responsible to the public to allow opportunities for input at all stages of the EA process, including the Environmetal Impact Statement and the follow up of Monitoring requirements for a proposed project. The Monitoring stage must be an evolving process to require proponents to address unexpected changes that require modifications to the monitoring protocol and capacity to address previously unseen negative impacts.
Finally, I would like to see the Federal government use an independent scientific expert panel to be the decision-makers regarding the acceptance of any projects that may result in significant environmental impacts rather than leaving those decisions to Cabinet. Moreover, I would hope that very few if any projects with significant environmental impacts would reach the stage of being considered at all. The Environmental Assessment process should arrive at a point where proponents meet all requirements to build and operate a project that overcomes any potential significant impacts.
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