When they make decisions that affect the environment, most government departments in Ontario must consider our environmental rights. A provincial law known as the "Environmental Bill of Rights" says that certain ministries have to publish a "Statement of Environmental Values". This statement is a blueprint for the decision-making process that endeavors to ensure our air and water are protected.
Earlier this month, the newly formed Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure wrote its environmental values statement. The public had a chance to comment on the proposed statement. In light of Waterkeeper's experience on energy issues and EBR policy (this was the subject of our Lafarge case), we scrutinized the ministry's proposal very closely. Here's what we found:
- The Energy Ministry limited the application of its environmental values to the development of laws, regulations, and policies. Instead, it must apply its environmental values in every decision-making process, including when it issues licences or makes day-to-day decisions. This is what the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in the Lafarge case, and this is what the Ontario government is obliged to do.
- The Energy Ministry does not truly explain how it will consider the precautionary principle, the ecosystem, or conservation when it makes decisions. These are "best-practices" in decision-making, according to the Court, and it is "reasonable" to consider them. These principles ensure that we do not make mistakes today that we will be unable to fix later. They ensure that our air and water does not suffer "death by a thousand cuts".
- The Energy Ministry does not fully explain how it will protect and preserve Ontario's ecological and biological diversity. The focus is primarily on energy conservation, which is an important and laudable goal. Conservation alone, however, will not protect our environmental rights.
This week on Living at the Barricades: Mark and Krystyn discuss two-tier environmental protection today – the idea that there are different rules for different people, usually based on who you know, how much money you have, or where you are. We look at federal and provincial examples of two-tier environmental law. Olympian Karen Percy Lowe joins us at the end of the show to give tips to Mark for his upcoming torch run in Vancouver, BC.