(By Adam Campbell, Manager, Regulatory and Legal at Integrated Sustainability)
After public outcry from First Nations groups and conservation legal groups, British Columbia’s Environment Minister, Mary Polack has done a complete turnaround on a decision that would have exempted most of the natural gas produced in the province and destination resorts from mandatory environmental assessment.
On Monday, cabinet passed an order in council, without public debate, amending the Reviewable Projects Regulation under the Environmental Assessment Act, that would have removed about 99 percent of the natural gas produced in the province, as well as ski and all-season resorts, from automatic environmental reviews. The government reversed that decision on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, in response to the order in council, provincial bureaucrats were asked to leave and were escorted out of a First Nations meeting on liquified natural gas in Fort Nelson, BC. Several First Nations also sent a request to B.C. Premier Christy Clark to meet and discuss the amendments, noting that the decision was made without consultation, despite their interests in land use decisions that impact their traditional territories.
BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, “The Order in Council decision to omit sweet gas and ski resorts from provincial environmental assessment is very disappointing to many of the BC First Nations currently participating in dialogue with government and industry today at the Fort Nelson Shale Gas/LNG Summit. Decisions aimed only at ‘cutting red tape’ do nothing to ease intensifying concerns by First Nations and by the public about environmental protection. This growing unease does nothing to create a positive climate in BC; the province is running the risk of stalling economic progress by ignoring the need for appropriate environmental management. Opportunities for relationship building are lost when the BC Government on the one hand participates in open dialogue with First Nations on topics like LNG, but on the other makes no effort to consult with First Nations on major environmental deregulation in the same day. This is another unacceptable example of government once again attempting to water down and minimalize their consultation and accommodation obligations with our communities.”
The government reversed that decision yesterday, with Polack apologizing, saying that the government failed to discuss the amendment with First Nations. “Our government is committed to a strong, respectful and productive relationship with First Nations,” she said in a statement. “That is why we will rescind the amendment that would have removed the requirement for an environmental assessment for sweet gas facilities and destination resorts, until we have undertaken discussions with First Nations.”