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Environmental Law Alert Blog

Through our Environmental Law Alert blog, West Coast alerts you to environmental law problems and developments affecting British Columbians. It is the public voice of our Environmental Law Alert unit which is a legal “watchdog” for BC’s environment.

If you have an environmental story that we should hear about, please e-mail Andrew Gage. Also, please feel free to comment on any of the posts to this blog – but please keep in mind our policies on comments.

20 February, 2014

In June 2012 word went around our community that Pioneer Forest park - heavily used from 1966 - was going to be sold. The information about the pending sale of the park found its way to some concerned citizens who were not about to let this happen. We engaged Patrick Canning, an environmental lawyer, to help with our battle and were thrilled to receive a Grant from the West Coast Environmental Law Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund. After a long process, the forest has now been transferred to the City of Nanaimo and is a dedicated park.  We are so very grateful to the financial support of West Coast Environmental Law and the legal expertise of Patrick Canning, our lawyer. Without them I don’t know if it could have happened.

14 February, 2014

It feels a bit like déjà vu. Once again we’re faced with a federal government study that was highly relevant to the environmental assessment of the Enbridge pipelines and tankers project, but which was not considered in the assessment because it was released too late.  Like an earlier Environment Canada report, this Transport Canada report is highly relevant to the issues that were before the Enbridge JRP.  In fact, the Transport Canada report directly considers the marine risks posed by Enbridge’s pipelines and tankers proposal, concluding for example that Enbridge’s project would raise the Environmental Risk Index rating for the nearshore zones in the vicinity from “very low” to “very high.”  In circumstances where there are significant risks, uncertainties or other complicating factors, hard and fast cookie-cutter timelines for environmental assessments can do the Canadian public a disservice.  This is well-demonstrated by the federal government’s apparent inability to meet its own deadlines in the Enbridge JRP scenario with regard to the Transport Canada and Environment Canada reports. 

14 February, 2014

The BC Parks Service says that the provincial parks and conservancies are a “public trust” for the “protection of natural environments for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public.” These noble sentiments are difficult to square with Bill 4, the “Park Amendment Act, 2014”, introduced yesterday (Thursday, February 13th) into the BC legislature.  Bill 4 allows for industry (and others) to carry out “research” in provincial parks related to pipelines, transmission lines, roads and other industrial activities that might require park land.  It also reduces legal protection for smaller parks and enables film production in BC parks. 

7 February, 2014

You may have heard our sister organization, the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation, mentioned last night on CBC’s Power and Politics; Power and Politics discussed whether current audits of environmental charities were politically driven. In the current political climate it is important to remember that charities have an important, and entirely legal, role to play in public (even political) discourse and that Canadians have benefited enormously from advocacy work by charities connected to their core purposes of protecting the environment, human health, and other important Canadian values.

6 February, 2014

Tuesday night (February 4th) the City of Chilliwack passed a bylaw intended to allow the development of a controversial hazardous waste recycling facility immediately adjacent to the Fraser River.  That’s a mistake on so many levels – but the law allows local governments to make mistakes. But the law does require the City of Chilliwack to hear from the public in a fair and open way.  That’s West Coast Environmental Law wrote to the City of Chilliwack to recommend that it hold off passing the bylaw, and instead re-open public hearings into the contentious rezoning. Chilliwack's public notice made no mention of hazardous waste and the site's proximity to the Fraser River, and the final version of key documents were not available to the public at the time of Chilliwack's public hearing. 

4 February, 2014

A current BC Ministry of Environment public consultation on "administrative penalties" under the Environmental Management Act and the Integrated Pest Management Act is a good thing for environmental enforcement in BC.  Administrative penalties fill a gap between the government's main enforcement tools - charges and tickets.  They give officials within the Ministry of Environment the authority to decide on and impose penalties in the course of their own “administration” of the Act – without needing to turn to courts.  Unlike tickets, the penalties can be significant, but can also be tailored to the individual circumstance.  Since they don’t need to involve complicated, expensive and scarce court resources, they are more likely to be used by the Ministry of Environment. However, we'd like to see the government's regulations and policies on administrative penalties include minimum penalties for some offences and ensure that polluters know that they are certain to face stiff penalties if they break the law. The government consultation continues until February 21st, 2014.

3 February, 2014

Our 2011 report, Professionals and Climate Change, made the case that climate change fundamentally impacts the work and ethical obligations of many different types of professions, and that the professional associations that govern those professions need to recognize that.  We are excited to see two recent developments demonstrating that engineers, at least, are grappling with the exciting question of the role of professionals and professional associations in addressing climate change:

  • a position paper released by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) – representing BC’s 29,000 engineers and geoscientists – on what a changing climate means for engineers;
  • the recent launch of Engineers for Carbon Ethics – who want to take that discussion one step further.

We hope these separate developments are just the beginning of further discussion, and meaningful action by engineers and other professions.

29 January, 2014

So how did the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) considering Enbridge’s proposed pipelines and tankers project conclude that a catastrophic spill of diluted bitumen (untreated oil sands oil, diluted so that it can be transported by pipe) on BC’s North Coast would only have a short-term impact on the environment? We suggest that the Enbridge JRP report is illustrative of two concerns that we’ve raised about changes to Canada’s environmental assessment laws:

  • Having environmental assessments done by the National Energy Board (NEB) undermines the potential for an unbiased and independent assessment;
  • Putting in place rigid timelines discourages assessing risks up front (which is the purpose of environmental assessment) and may result in environmental assessments being done on the basis of incomplete scientific information. 

In our view the process has been anything but the “science-based” process that Prime Minister Harper promised Canadians. The reality is that social licence can’t be rushed, and weak environmental laws hurt, rather than help, industry. As First Nations and others line up to challenge the Enbridge Pipeline in court, and as Enbridge continues to find itself unable to secure customers, that reality is increasingly clear.  

23 January, 2014

When the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) tries to detect violations of BC’s forest laws, do they put their efforts into detecting violations by large logging companies or small-scale operators?  It turns out that small-scale operators and individuals get over half of the attention of government inspectors, while large-scale logging companies are only the target of about 20% of the government’s inspections, despite holding the logging rights to around 70% of the province’s  forests. 

17 January, 2014

Canadians may soon know more about the chemicals being used to extract bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands, thanks to West Coast Environmental Law and our colleagues at Environmental Defence and the Association Québécoise de Lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQLPA).  But, unless the federal government can be persuaded to drop it’s narrow interpretation of pollution disclosure rules, Environment Canada won’t be requiring oil and gas companies to provide information about what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This means that most Canadians will have little to no knowledge of the potentially harmful and toxic chemicals being pumped into the ground in the fracking process, The federal government is consulting with the public until February 8th, 2014.