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British Columbia Young scientists call for tougher federal scrutiny of development projects

More than 1,000 early-career scientists from across Canada have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and key members of his cabinet urging the government to do a better job of assessing the environmental impacts of developments.

The scientists say they are "concerned that current environmental assessments and regulatory decision-making processes lack scientific rigour," and that the health of Canadians and the environment are being put at risk.

"As the next generation of Canadian scientists, we are professionally and personally affected by such decisions, especially regarding large-scale and long-term projects," the letter states.

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The signatories, mostly PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers, come from nearly all of Canada's top 50 research universities.

The letter does not complain about the way any specific projects were assessed, but it comes in the wake of controversial federal decisions approving the Pacific Northwest LNG project and the Site C dam in British Columbia, and in advance of a ruling from Ottawa on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Last spring, 130 scientists wrote to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to complain that the decision to approve the $11-billion Pacific Northwest LNG export terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River was "scientifically flawed."

The $9-billion Site C hydroelectric project, now under construction on the Peace River, is controversial because of the direct and cumulative impacts it will have in the region.

The $6.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline proposal is under consideration by cabinet with a decision expected in December. Environmentalists and First Nations complain the project's potential impact on the West Coast has not been adequately assessed.

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"Carefully conducted and independent science is crucial to evaluating the consequences of actions," the scientists write in this week's letter. "Since limited or biased science will not fully reflect the benefits and risks of a project, it cannot accurately inform decision-making."

The letter suggests five ways the government can improve environmental assessments and "help rebuild public trust in robust, open, and fair decision-making."

The scientists say only parties at arm's length from proponents should assess projects; that potential conflicts of interest should be declared; that all assessment information should be public; that cumulative impacts should be assessed, and that explicit decision making standards be developed to "ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence."

The letter, released Tuesday, was sent to Mr. Trudeau, Ms. McKenna, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Minister Carolyn Bennett, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.

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