Use regional environmental assessment for northern B.C. projects: report

VANCOUVER – Two British Columbia groups anticipating a nationwide review of environmental assessment processes hope a new report will encourage the federal government to strengthen laws involving resource projects.

West Coast Environmental Law and the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research have released a report highlighting what they say is growing unease in northern B.C. over numerous resource developments.

The report is based on comments from about 200 community leaders and residents in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat, Hazelton, Fort St. John and Chetwynd.

They were questioned about the many mining, forestry, oil and gas, hydroelectric and other developments across the region.

West Coast Environmental Law spokeswoman Hannah Askew says the report reveals frustration with project-by-project assessments and a lack of faith in governments’ ability to manage their overall effect.

The study calls for weighing the combined impact of all industrial activity in a region as the environmental review system is rebuilt.

“The heart of that is moving from a reactive process to a proactive process where community members have the time to sit down and figure out long-term hopes for the future, and then measure projects against those goals,” Askew says.

Community meetings began in late 2014 and found many participants worried they had no time to mull the big picture while being pressured to decide on single projects with the potential to derail future developments, she says.

The report recommends the use of a regional strategic environmental assessment to address that problem, she says.

“The federal government has made a lot of statements about reforming the (environmental assessment) process and providing more meaningful opportunities for public input into environmental decision-making, so we are really hoping they are going to be moving in this direction.”