BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Environmental Assessments Too 'Long' And 'Complex': Premier

01/27/2014 01:03 EST | Updated 03/29/2014 05:59 EDT
BC Government Flickr
VANCOUVER - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has ordered a review of the province's environmental assessment process, saying the current system has become too cumbersome.

Clark revealed few details about the evaluation and Environment Minister Mary Polak declined comment Monday, but the Environment Ministry said a key aim of the mandate from Clark is to cut the timeline for environmental assessments in the province.

The premier made the announcement at a mineral exploration convention in Vancouver on Monday, in the middle of a speech about extending a $10-million tax-credit program to B.C.'s mining industry for another year.

She said environmental reviews of major projects are crucial, and while the current process is rigorous and transparent, the province's environmental assessment office can "do better."

"In my view, it is better to do the hard and rigorous work at the front end and get it right, than to endure decades of questions and debate and acrimony about why and how it was done," Clark said.

The premier told reporters she believes the existing system has gotten less predictable and more inefficient.

"My view is if a project is environmentally unsustainable and the wrong project, we should say no. If it's a project that is environmentally sound, we should say yes," she said.

"But I think over the years, the environmental assessment process has gotten so long, so difficult and so complex, that communities, proponents can't get a yes, can't get a no."

Clark added she believes getting an efficient approval or rejection would be best for economic development in B.C.

Though Polak declined a request for an interview, an emailed statement from the Environment Ministry the premier has given her a mandate to ensure timely decisions.

"We know the value to any company of time spent in regulatory processes and the premier has asked for a review the Environmental Assessment Office, with a view to ensuring that our economic development objectives and our environmental protection objectives are in balance," the ministry said.

One of the aims of the review, which is internal and will issue no final report to be made public, will be to "decrease the duration of environmental assessments, from beginning to end," while ensuring the integrity of the process.

The province will also consider having applicant companies pay "modest" fees for environmental assessments.

The province's environmental assessment processes have come under fire in the past.

The Liberal government has been soundly criticized for signing an "equivalency agreement" with Ottawa that saw the review of the Northern Gateway pipeline conducted by a federal panel for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Energy Board stand for the B.C. assessment as well.

That left the province to participate as an intervener in the hearings. Though B.C. declared it did not support the project as proposed, the federal panel recommended approval last month.

The federal government is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline later this year.

Questions have also been raised over a billion-dollar gold and copper mine proposed by Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) near Williams Lake.

The federal government is weighing its final decision about the New Prosperity Mine after a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel report released last November found the mine would have several adverse effects.

It was the second federal assessment of the project. The federal government rejected the original mine proposal in 2010, though the province approved it after the provincial assessment found the economic benefits outweighed the negative environmental impacts.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett recently met with three federal ministers to urge them to approve the revised Taseko project.

There are currently 20 major mines and expansions going through B.C.'s environmental assessment and permitting processes.

On Monday, Clark touted the success of her jobs plan, saying the mining industry has created more than 800 jobs since 2011 due to two new mines, with more to come.

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