“It’s like all five of the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes are oil sheen.” — Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after flying over BP’s oil spill on May 1, 2010.
As the world reacts to BP’s massive oil production disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it has come to light that the company made efforts last year to, “thwart government efforts to tighten regulations for deep-water drilling”. In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons that Canada has much stricter rules than the US, and a similar disaster could not happen here. However, even as oil continues to pour into the ocean, the Government of Canada is trying to rollback key environmental assessment rules through an omnibus bill currently under review by a House of Commons Committee. Bill C-9 is supposed to be about jobs and economic opportunities, but it also includes unrelated changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
These changes, if passed, will be an open invitation for further environmental disasters.
In a written brief to the Standing Committee on Finance, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, Ottawa Riverkeeper, Fraser Riverkeeper, and Georgian Baykeeper are recommending that Committee members vote “no” to the parts of the omnibus bill that would weaken environmental assessment rules across the country. This recommendation is based on our extensive experience with environmental assessments. The written brief takes the place of an oral presentation to the committee.
Here’s why we believe the changes to the environmental assessment process are bad for Canadians:
1. The changes fly in the face of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding a comprehensive, fulsome approach to environmental assessment. Basically, the Supreme Court said that government cannot divide a project into tiny, irrational pieces. “Project-splitting”, as this practice is known, was a tactic often used to avoid looking at a whole project and all of its environmental impacts. The rollbacks would actually encourage political decision-makers to limit what is studied in an environmental assessment.
2. The changes eliminate public consultation for the “scope” of some major environmental assessments. This is the stage when we decide what we will study, and it is usually the most important part of the environmental assessment process. Limit your scope, and you will miss major environmental effects.
3. The changes eliminate environmental assessments for many government-funded projects. This was supposed to be a short-term measure, introduced last year to help the government distribute stimulus funds. Now, the government wants to permanently eliminate environmental assessments for a whole host of projects.
One of the most frustrating things about the environmental assessment rollbacks is that they have been buried in an unrelated bill. They will not be reviewed by a House committee that specializes in environmental policy. They will not be published for true public consultation. This is the tactic we saw last year, when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was weakened through a budget bill.
This year, the tactic appears especially cynical. By law, the Environmental Assessment Act must be reviewed later this year. Many citizens, nonprofit, and industry groups have been working towards this legislative review process, preparing reports and papers and trying to participate in the process that was promised to them.
Rather than wait a matter of weeks for the formal review process to begin, the environmental assessment rollbacks have been crammed into a financial bill and will receive very limited review. This kind of rushed, politicized decision-making is exactly what scientific, rational study process were designed to eliminate.
The (sad) irony is not lost on us.
This week on Living at the Barricades:
To mark the end of the Clean Water Workshop, the Waterkeeper staff chat with our Toronto law students about their work during the 2009-2010 school year. In partnership with Pro Bono Students Canada, U of T, Osgoode, and Queen’s law students work on files for Waterkeeper throughout the school year. Our Toronto students talk about their review of the way the Ontario government regulates (and sometimes fails to regulate) the nuclear industry. Our Queen’s students worked on a top secret project that we hope to be able to share with you very soon.
Music in this show
Uranium by Emily Grogan
Uranium Rock by The Cramps
Playing with Uranium by Duran Duran
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