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B.C. groups deliver ideas for overhaul of environmental assessments

Environment Minister George Heyman holds a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on April 26, 2018.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Environmental, social justice and community groups want British Columbia’s environmental assessment process overhauled to better consider scientific and Indigenous knowledge.

The 23 groups including Amnesty International Canada , the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ecojustice and Dogwood have recommended changes to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman.

They want future assessments to be led by an independent body, involve the public, and reflect scientific and Indigenous knowledge to improve Aboriginal reconciliation and environmental sustainability.

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The provincial government recently announced a 12-person advisory committee would examine its environmental assessment process.

At the time, Heyman said the government review would ensure B.C. has a process that’s “transparent, science-based, timely and provides early indications of the likelihood of success.”

A leader of one of the groups offering input says she is familiar with problems linked to past environmental assessments in the province.

“In our experience the existing assessment process lacks transparency, accountability and credibility, fails to meaningfully engage and inform the public, and leaves lands, waters and communities vulnerable from poorly planned development,” says Pat Moss, executive director of the Northwest Institute.

The West Coast Environmental Law Association is also urging the advisory committee to consider sweeping changes to the environmental assessment process.

“Building an EA system that British Columbians can trust will help the government avoid future disputes over controversial proposals like the Site C Dam or New Prosperity Mine,” says Anna Johnston, a staff lawyer with the association.

A discussion paper from the advisory committee is scheduled to be available for public comment this spring, with changes to the environmental assessment process expected in late fall.

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Environmental assessments already underway will continue under the current process, the Environment Ministry said.

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