Editorial: Studying projects to death

Columnist Tom Fletcher talks about political gestures

B.C.Views

 

NDP leader Adrian Dix has announced that one of his first acts as premier would be to withdraw B.C. from the joint review of the Enbridge pipeline proposal from Alberta to Kitimat.

The two-year federal-led review will be mostly done by next May, but Dix proposes to start a new provincial assessment to examine at the B.C. portion. He doesn’t know how much it would cost, and under questioning he all but admitted the intention is to study the pipeline to death.

Fresh from a summer tour of the pipeline route to reaffirm solidarity with its opponents, Dix is hardly in a position to consider anything but maximum resistance. As Premier Christy Clark did in her showdown with Alberta over benefits, Dix hinted that provincial permits for river and wildlife crossings would be made as expensive as possible, if not refused.

The same fate awaits the Kinder Morgan plan to twin the existing Trans-Mountain oil pipeline to Burnaby. Dix left the impression that he would undo the years of work that have gone into bringing some rational sense to environmental approvals that can be, and have been, dragged out for years.

The B.C. hearings would provide another platform for opponents, and more complaints to justify refusal at the provincial level, to go along with court cases and direct-action protests.

Speaking of which, the frontal assault by agitators at the federal Enbridge hearings has mostly petered out. After 4,000-odd people were signed up to speak, most didn’t bother, and some hearings were cancelled. Apparently slacktivists such as “Jonathan L. Seagull” and “Cave Man” didn’t make it out of their Vancouver basement suites to tell the panel oil is bad.

Professional environmentalists are now wringing their hands over Ottawa’s decision to leave smaller-scale reviews to the province. This means, for example, that there won’t be a duplicate federal review of the urgently needed refit of the John Hart Dam on the Campbell River.

One reader suggested that environmental pioneer Roderick Haig-Brown is still spinning in his grave over the damming of this legendary salmon river. Perhaps, but that was in 1947. Does it make sense today to lard pointless bureaucracy onto a reconstruction that replaces wooden pipes and provides earthquake protection, without expanding river impact?

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming hammered away at the B.C. Liberals about this in the spring, reminding them that Auditor General John Doyle had exposed a lack of resources in the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, even before Ottawa’s changes.

Fleming makes it sound like a huge new burden has been dumped on B.C. False. Provincial assessment already must be done with the participation of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, the provincial ministries of natural resources and energy and mines, and of course aboriginal communities. This is why it’s so long and expensive.

And don’t be fooled into believing that a federal review would go out and count the tadpoles and caribou again. It’s only the desk jobs that have proliferated.

There weren’t just two levels of duplicate review, but three. Earlier in their mandate, the B.C. Liberals exempted major projects such as mines and energy generation from local government control, citing the “provincial interest” similar to the federal authority over projects that cross provincial borders.

I agree with the NDP that B.C. environmental assessment needs more resources, in particular to do the follow-up on approved projects, as called for by the auditor general.

Forest management needs more money too. All the more reason not to waste resources on political gestures.

 

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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