Auditor General recommends better environmental monitoring

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Environmental issues seem to be fast making the news again with the news that the federal government is going to slash the budget of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority by 43.1 per cent.

It’s an interesting development to come at the same time as a provincial audit has determined that B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office isn’t doing enough enforcement of projects that have received environmental certificates.

Environmental certificates are a very big hurdle that major projects must cross before being allowed to operate. Major projects being things like run-of-river projects, mines and the Site C dam (pictured above).

John Doyle issues report that criticizes oversight of energy projects

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

July 13, 2011

B.C.’s auditor general is recommending stronger environmental monitoring of major energy projects – a recommendation that at least one activist in Pemberton is skeptical will be followed.

Doug Helmer, an owner of Helmer’s Organic Farm in the Pemberton Valley, has been on record for years raising concerns about government oversight of independent power producers (IPP’s) that are popping up on rivers throughout British Columbia – two of which, the Ryan and Upper Lillooet projects, are slated for development not far from his property.

“We have been concerned about the ineffectiveness of the EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) in regards to IPP’s for years,” he said in an email.

Helmer’s concerns were validated last week – Auditor General John Doyle wrote in a report that the EAO’s monitoring of power plants is “not sufficient” to ensure they’re avoiding adverse environmental impacts.

Doyle recommended swift changes to firm up that monitoring, but Helmer isn’t sure they’ll be followed.

“The Auditor General’s report contains nothing new,” he said. “(Now deceased IPP activist) Hamish Nichol arranged a meeting with EAO officials about three years ago in Pemberton and our group expressed its concern then. Nothing changed because the Liberal Government has not wanted any change and (it) gives direction to the EAO.

“Will the Liberal Government now pay attention to the Auditor General? Your guess is as good as mine.”

The EAO administers a process that sees major projects such as hydro dams, run-of-river projects and mines go through a series of approvals before receiving certificates that permit them to move forward with construction and operation.

Both the Ryan and the Upper Lillooet projects could result in environmental impacts such as clearing trees for a transmission line or altering habitat for fish populations.

As Doyle tells it, the EAO hasn’t been strong enough in monitoring compliance with those certificates. Among other things, he said the EAO is not “significantly active” in activities such as inspections or enforcement actions.

Doyle therefore prescribed a series of recommendations such as developing a “comprehensive compliance and enforcement program” that would monitor a project’s progress and ensure compliance. He also recommended that the EAO carry out post-certificate evaluations to determine whether environmental assessments are avoiding potentially adverse effects of certified projects.

Susie Gimse, the director for Area C of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and a Birken resident, was encouraged to see Doyle’s recommendations because she’s been concerned for some time that run-of-river projects requiring environmental certificates aren’t being monitored very carefully.

“We’ve known all along that this is the type of monitoring that’s been occurring,” she said. “I’m hoping as a result of these recommendations the province will now find the resources to implement the recommendations so that we no longer have to worry about the negative impacts of IPP’s or other development on Crown land.”

For its part, the EAO has been responsive to Doyle’s recommendations.

John Mazure, the office’s acting executive director, said in an interview that the EAO has hired a director of strategy and quality assurance whose job it is to look at the office’s policies and procedures and ensure that staff is complying with them.

“We need to get better in terms of our consistency across the office,” he said. “We have project leads that work on projects, we have to make sure how each of those individuals is handling those responsibilities, that we’re doing it consistently and tracking that and that we can gather that information and report out on it.”


About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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