Next-Generation Environmental Assessment for BC
In the summer of 2017, the new provincial government promised to reform environmental assessment and planning in British Columbia. This commitment put BC at the doorstep of a major opportunity to transform the way we assess and plan for development activities in the province, in order to better align provincial decisions with the exercise of jurisdiction by Indigenous nations, the needs of ecosystems and the vision of BC communities.
A range of environmental, social justice, and community groups have developed “A vision for next-generation environmental assessment in British Columbia” (the Vision document) as a standard against which to measure BC’s proposed reforms.
Following a period of engagement and public comment, BC passed a new Environmental Assessment Act in November 2018. BC is now developing regulations to flesh out important details about how the new law will work; they intend to complete this by the end of 2019 and bring the new Act into force.
The new Act introduces some significant improvements worth celebrating along the lines set out in the Vision document. For example, the new Act:
- the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) to promote sustainability and support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in carrying out its responsibilities under the Act;
- provides for Indigenous-led assessments;
- enables regional assessments (i.e. “bigger picture” assessments that look at the cumulative impacts of development in a region, rather than a single project);
- sets out mandatory matters to be assessed, including effects on current and future generations, consistency with applicable land-use plans or regional assessments, and “the potential effects on the province being able to meet its targets under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act”;
- establishes a community advisory committee as a default part of the assessment process, and increases the number of opportunities for written public comment; and
- enables a suite of stronger follow-up and compliance tools, such as a new power to require independent audits of approved projects.
However, a detailed comparison of the new Act to the Vision document also reveals a number of shortcomings. Fortunately, there is an opportunity to address many of these shortcomings through the regulation development process. Key areas for improvement that should be addressed include:
- strengthening and expanding the requirements for which projects and activities are subject to assessment;
- ensuring that BC’s political commitment to establish a public participant funding program for assessments is enacted in law;
- establishing strong standards for when regional assessments are required, how they are conducted and how their outcomes must be implemented;
- developing appropriate, non-binding dispute resolution processes for the Crown and Indigenous nations; and
- enacting a regulation to ensure balanced evidence in assessments, including standards regarding the appointment, qualifications, responsibilities and roles of persons who will be reviewing, preparing, or providing advice about evidence in assessments.
We commend the BC government for the steps it has taken so far to strengthen assessment in BC. Acknowledging the work still to be done, we call on the BC government to ensure the new assessment regulations reflect the Vision for next generation EA in BC and deliver an informed, transparent and accountable assessment process that furthers sustainability, advances reconciliation and involves the public in decisions that affect their communities.
Why BC’s New Environmental Assessment Act Is Worth Celebrating – column, December 2018
How Does British Columbia’s Proposed New Environmental Assessment Act Measure Up? – review, December 2018
A vision for next-generation environmental assessment in British Columbia – 2 page summary, May 2018
A Blueprint for Revitalizing Environmental Assessment in British Columbia – report, April 2018
Why it’s time to reform environmental assessment in BC – blog post, February 2018