BC: Secret environmental review deals need to stop .....

BC: Secret environmental review deals need to stop .....

Postby Oscar » Thu Nov 01, 2018 8:35 am

Secret deals exempting some projects from environmental review need to stop

[ https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/ ... ed-to-stop ]

BEN PARFITT Updated: October 31, 2018

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) bills itself as a “neutral” provincial agency.

EXCERPT: Consider, for example, Encana Corporation, a significant player in the natural-gas industry in the South Peace region. In one ruling after another between 2014 and 2015, Encana received a pass from the EAO without the public hearing a word about it until after the fact.

Those rulings involved three gas plants that Encana proposed to build near Dawson Creek, including one that was the largest of its kind built in Western Canada in 30 years.

To be clear, none of these were minor facilities. They all qualified as “major” and therefore “reviewable” projects under the Environmental Assessment Act regulations.

In each case, Encana asked the EAO to exempt the plants from lengthy environmental assessments that would have required public notification and consultation. In each case, the EAO granted the company’s request without first notifying the public. The company was thus spared the expense of having its projects subject to more transparent public environmental screenings.

All three plants are built, owned and operated by Veresen Midstream LP, under an agreement where the company agrees to compress and transport all the hydrocarbons that Encana drills and fracks in the region over the next 30 years.

Here’s the problem: Encana’s requests to the EAO were permitted.

The act grants the EAO powers to exempt reviewable projects from assessments. When and how such calls are made, however, is often shielded from public scrutiny until after the fact.

That’s what happened in the Encana cases and it is precisely what Heyman should fix if his revitalization efforts are to have a lasting, positive impact.

First Nation leaders and prominent environmental lawyers all recently told Heyman and key officials in his ministry that the EAO’s powers to exempt major projects should be scrapped. Members of the public echoed those concerns. There is simply no legitimate reason to give the EAO such powers.

Yet B.C.’s recent proposals to reform the act would maintain the exemption power with only one change — that the EAO recommends exemptions with the minister making the decision.

Leaving the clause in place opens the system to abuse and raises questions.

Questions like: Did Encana’s generous donations to B.C.’s major political parties have any bearing on the favourable rulings the company secured?

According to the searchable Elections B.C. database, donations by Encana to B.C.’s Liberal and New Democratic parties combined were more than $1.32 million from 2005 to the present, with more than 92 per cent going to the Liberals.

Elections B.C. also reports that former Encana chairman and CEO Gwyn Morgan, a one-time advisor to former premier Christy Clark, personally donated more than $263,000 to the Liberals.

(Early in its mandate, the NDP provincial government banned corporate and union donations. But there are myriad ways that such entities continue to wield influence.)

As Encana’s donations flowed, the government launched the Site C project and B.C. Hydro began spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build new transmission lines from its two existing hydro dams on the Peace River. As those new lines were built, it was expected that the fossil-fuel industry would consume much of that power.

Documents posted by the EAO after it granted Encana exemptions at its Sunrise, Saturn and Tower plants show that the regulator gave the company what it wanted partly because the plants would be powered by hydroelectricity and not natural gas. According to the EAO, that meant that the plants would have few “significant” environmental impacts.

But full environmental assessments would have allowed members of the public to question such assertions. For starters, what about all the increased natural-gas drilling and fracking to supply gas to the plants? An environmental assessment might also have allowed members of the public to raise questions about the “cumulative” impact of the full range of gas industry activities on the region’s fragile waterways, First Nations and farming communities — something assessments often neglect. . . . . "
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Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Oscar
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