Site C and future environmental assessmentsSubmitted By: Randal Hadland December 23, 2016
Canadian Environmental Assessment Process Review Site C and future assessments.
I will be talking about the need for a comprehensive, fair, and open review process. Such a process is possible. Our current Prime Ministers father was part of the original Round Table, in the Club of Rome, and its Limits to Growth. Here in the Peace we were fortunate enough to be the guinea pigs for what was perhaps the most comprehensive, fair and open environmental assessment in Canada.
The Site C hearings in 1982/83 which we helped initiate and design were a starting point for what was to be a new era in energy/environment impact recognition. We have had a lot of pushback from proponents of development at any cost over the last thirty years and it is now evident that the pushback is not relenting. It is obvious from recent government decisions on the energy and environment portfolios, that the limits to growth are not yet understood, or have been forgotten.
Some of our limits have been stretched, others seem to be shrinking. We need, now, to work together and identify development that is actually economic. Financial development is not enough. It does not recognize the value in social, cultural, intergenerational or ecological developments. And if those factors are not considered in the same vein, with the same interest, the limits to our growth might sneak up on us faster than we are prepared to deal with them.
We have had demonstrations, lately, of the need to examine issues from all points of view. And we have had them because people understand that their concerns are being swept under the carpet by corporate demands for profit. We can see that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of short sightedness and self interest.
In order to restore confidence in the environmental assessment process it is necessary to have the decision making material and the decision making criteria open and available to the public for appeal. We need this new law to make this retroactive to the decisions that have been made based on material passed under the old legislation, that we are trying to improve.
If the information gathered for our Environmental Assessments have been inadequate, like the Site C process, if the process has been manipulated in an effort to pre-ordain the result, like the Site C process, if the proponent has been given a free hand to ignore the people they are supposed to consult, like Site C, if the process itself has been denied the resources necessary to properly examine the material that did make it to the Review, like the Joint review Process for Site C, and if the decision were then based on perceived benefits that have not been released for public view, like the Site C decision, it would be a continuation of the travesty to allow that decision under that old assessment to be upheld.
If even a couple of these criteria have been disputed there should be a public examination of the process to look at the fairness. Whether there are concerns that exist on a completed project or on one that is barely started a new review can provide a better answer.
The new environmental assessment law needs to provide for a period of time, say 6 months, during which decisions can be appealed to decision makers, and additional time, if necessary, allowing for procedure and resolution through the courts, before final approval.
As I mentioned, we have been through different regulatory processes in our efforts to stop Site C. I believe it is fair to say that in each case, including the recent Joint Review Process we have been able to show that the proponents did not examine the issues thoroughly enough. Please remember that None of this would be necessary if proponents honestly and thoroughly did what is required in the first place. We know that self regulation does not work, and we know that rigging the process in favour of streamlining, providing surety, for developers doesn’t work, therefore we need a better regulatory review process.
Determination of significance of impacts needs a lot of work, the make-up of panels needs to reflect the concern for relevant aspects of each proposal. Panels need to have staff familiar with these aspects, and funding, and time, to ensure that concerns about significance are fully understood and accounted for in recommendations.
I think there are two options we have for EA evaluations, and each proposal could have its own decision about approach. We can from the beginning adopt a collaborative approach in which all aspects of procedure, participation, impact assessment, benefits and costs, necessity, and timeline are dealt with by representatives of all interested parties with oversight from the EAA. I was in on the development of the first Utility collaborative in Canada. We looked at the potential of conservation and compared that potential to Site C.
A proponent of a project that is going to consume public goods, interfere with first nations rights, or otherwise require public approval or permitting should be able to and be required to approach the EAA in order to start a public and governmental collaborative and consensual consultation process. The first step would be full disclosure of proponent planning to local, regional and any relevant interested parties. The convening of interested party meetings, with resulting election of representatives of respective interest groups to an oversight committee.
This body would then through discussion and ongoing public consultation determine the objectives, terms of reference/guidelines of the environmental, social, and financial impact statement. The collaborative would then oversee the hiring of the research groups, and the progress of the research, through to the final draft. This would ensure that all valid points would be considered.
On the other hand we could continue on with a confrontational approach. In this case it is necessary that public, NGO, First Nations participation in processes from drafting guidelines and TOR, through transparency issues, pre-hearing review of proponent documents, scheduling, intervenor funding, hearing procedures, panel selection, etc must be ensured. The process also needs to be subject to an EAA ombudsmans office dedicated to transparent evaluation of complaints.
Every panel must have the resources, the experts, the funding, and the ground level awareness to comprehend the issues brought forward by proponents and public. It must have the timeframe to allow adequate examination of all aspects of a proposal. These aspects of future panels are necessary because no reviewable proposal is going to be a matter of simple addition but will require unique formula covering all the variables.
Any panel must begin with the presumption of bias in the proponents info and the greater the reliance on that info, the greater the presumption of bias has to be. Remember, that is the default that we interveners have to show is inadequate or wrong. To avoid that, the recognition of the need for widespread inclusion from the beginning, from the beginning of the EA process, and from the beginning of the proponents process can not be an arguable point.
This is the land of Canadians. We have the right and authority to say that this project can be mitigated, that it has to be compensated, and how much, that it cannot be the scale being proposed, that it is the right project, or the wrong one. It is very hard for me to imagine a Canadian society that would not see the necessity of a good discussion, before a decision affecting a major watershed, and all the life depending on it, and sharing it, and the industries considered essential to sustainability, and the billions of dollars, and the emotional. cultural, and social impacts that are unmitigatable.
Before jumping to the conclusion that proponents need not apply, consider the scale of Pipeline projects, mega dams, mines that rip the top right off mountains or pollute the headwaters of an important river system, or open up of a vast region to farming. If a proponent has a project that needs such resources, I have to assume that they are willing to put in the effort to show its net value to the people, the region, the province, and the country. If they don’t, then, they really need not apply.
We need to consider whether the impacts on nature, the cumulative impacts of each project within the industry, (like Site C, close to 40,000 acres soil, habitat, forests, and all their connections, under threat of slip sliding under a reservoir. That in turn, is an addition to the 800,000 some acres that are in BC Hydros books as being under the other reservoirs in this province), and whether those cumulative resource losses, adding up impact on the sustainability of our land, have reached the limit that we can allow. And, then, we have to examine the affects of each and all of the major industrial accumulated impacts in relation to each other and our ability to have a sustainable ecosystem to live within. And we need this because we live here.
Over the fourty or so years that an amazing number of people and organizations have been trying to find some resolution to the Site c proposal, we have stopped Site C as being not proven in our best interest. For example, unlimited options have presented themselves, conservation and efficiency, passive and active solar, solar water heating, micro ,mini, community scale, and megaprojects of all the active generation and storage systems for increasing our energy availability. All of these options have their own costs and benefits and our governments have a responsibility through public processes to ensure that we are getting this right, that we are not blindly following bad advice.
I have every confidence that there will be some who oppose our country getting a handle on our future in this way. However it is necessary and we don’t need to start from scratch. There is the work of the Round Tables that can be drawn on in reaching consensual development, There have been collaborations between industry and a wide range of interested parties working out aspects of energy development. Each proposal for a high impact project has the need of proceeding in a manner that recognizes despite its proponents belief, that it is not in a world of its own.
It isn’t enough to say that a private or crown corporation has found the best answer that they can provide and so we will examine this to see if it is good for the economy. We need comparables to determine real value, and evaluating a series of peas in a pod while standing in a garden with rows of different kinds of produce doesn’t make a lot of sense if the object is to get the best garden we can. And we are going to need the most sustainable garden we can get in the face of climate change, population growth, and reduced fossil fuel use.
Government decision making is already based on criteria so adding sustainability or substituting sustainability criteria is not as radical as it might seem. A Member of Parliament makes a pledge to conduct him or herself in the best interests of the country. The oath or solemn affirmation reminds a Member of the serious obligations and responsibilities he or she is assuming. The very continuance of our country and our ability to survive within its sustainable level has to be the highest of those responsibilities.
I would like to see the public be consulted as if this country belongs to Canadians. I have seen proponents like BC Hydro adopt a consultative process that ignored not just the concerns of public participants, but the input from the very groups that provided the most input on previous attempts to get approval. I have witnessed them break their own public promises to examine areas of concern, and the guidelines that they themselves developed and agreed to, for their environmental assessment reports. That kind of arrogant and dismissive public dis-engagement is not going to resolve environmental conflicts. There is a moral and ethical imperative to do this right.
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