Government of Canada


Environmental Assessment Act Review Panel Received Dec. 28, 2016

Submitted By: Briony Penn December 28, 2016
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To Environmental Assessment Act Review Panel,

My name is Dr. Briony Penn and I would like to see the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) not only restored to its former state, prior to Bill C-38, but strengthened to a level reflecting concerns first raised over 40 years ago. I believe that the regression in public policy for environmental impact assessment has had terrible consequences to the health of Canadians and the ecosystems we rely on. Much like the hiding of evidence on smoking, ignoring scientific warnings of cumulative impacts to ecosystem health has been criminal because it has forestalled policy and protection for decades.
I have a research interest in the history of the Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP) that goes back to the 1970s. I think it is very important your review panel look at the historic context in which the EARP emerged because we are essentially back to where we started in 1973. Ironically, the very project that triggered the need to assess impacts in 1973 (Site A/WAC Bennett dam) is triggering a public outcry in its third phase —Site C—a contemporary case study of flawed process.
It was impacts from the WAC Bennett dam to wildlife, water quality, habitat destruction and indigenous rights to hunt and fish which led to the benchmark 1973 national conference on environmental impact assessment, when it was a relatively new concept coming out of the United States. Scientists on both sides of the border at the time were collaborating on a process that could measure impacts through a variety of lenses and criteria. One of the senior researchers at UBC, Dr. Ian McTaggart Cowan wrote this at the time:
The major criticism of our current modes of planning and environmental impact prediction… is that they are piecemeal. They usually consider only one project within a region, or even one aspect of a project… With this approach, it is impossible to do a thorough job of assessing the combined effects of projects, and generally one concludes that the environmental effects of a single project are not very “significant.”…The result is not the ecological 'disasters’ which make headlines, but a process of slow attrition in which, year after year, project by project, we haphazardly approach subtopia.[1]
Dr. Cowan had been sitting on an earlier prototype of an environmental assessment panel in 1972. In the absence of a federally mandated process then, that assessment was paid for by the oil and gas companies that were proposing the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The panel’s mandate was to predict the environmental impacts, for which they were criticized both externally and internally. Cowan proposed to government "a larger interdisciplinary team be formed to consider the broad questions of energy, transportation and development in the western Arctic.”[1] He also argued for an independent board that would take into account cumulative impacts and indigenous voices and would be “insulated politically and economically from the project developers.” [1] Cowan’s recommendations in 1973 were to resonate with Justice Thomas Berger when the jurist was appointed to conduct the government’s own inquiry into the Mackenzie pipeline proposal in March of 1974. Berger brought in many of the innovations proposed by Cowan, the most important of which was funding for First Nations, environmental organizations and health authorities to bring in their own witnesses and to take a year to get ready for the hearings.
The following year, another benchmark workshop was held, Living with Climatic Change, organized by federal meteorologists. The conclusions of the workshop were: “there is growing evidence that the world is entering a new climate regime. Both the rate of change of the climate and the amplitude of short period climatic variations will be much more pronounced….Those of us concerned with science policy became aware of the almost total absence of communication between the meteorologists with the knowledge of climate change and the economic and social decision makers and planners."[2] An urgent call for policy makers to consider climate change in land-use decision making was made by scientists in 1975.
Over 40 years later, Canadians are still asking for a process that:
• takes into account cumulative impacts
• reviews projects within the context of climate change
• is independent from industry and government
• has a meaningful and extensive public involvement
• protects indigenous subsistence rights
I think it is essential that the EAA process address these long-standing concerns and that Canadians are properly warned of the implications of not keeping viable functioning ecosystems/carbon sinks. It is to all Canadians’ credit that we had scientists warning us of the dangers of cumulative impacts, climate change and ignoring indigenous rights. We need to recognize those early voices and return Canada to a democracy that “is insulated politically and economically from the project developers.”

Dr. B.H.E. Penn

[1] Ian McTaggart Cowan, “Environmental Impact Assessment: A Methodology for Prediction of Environmental Effects,” in National Conference on Environmental Impact Assessment: Philosophy and Methodology, Proceedings of a Conference held November 15–16, 1973 (Winnipeg: Agassiz Centre for Water Studies, University of Manitoba, 1973) 108-132.
[2] Patrick McTaggart Cowan and Klaus Beltzner, eds., Living with Climatic Change: Proceedings Toronto Conference Workshop, November 17–22, 1975 (Ottawa: Science Council of Canada, 1976). (accessed October 31, 2014).
Briony Penn

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