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BC scientists urge a closer look at Bill 51

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/23/2018 12:27:00 PM

Fourteen British Columbia (B.C.) scientists have lent their name to a letter to Premier John Horgan and several Cabinet members, urging them to reconsider elements of Bill 51, the recently-introduced modernization of B.C.’s environmental assessment law. They argue that “the proposed process lacks scientific rigour, with significant consequences for the health and environment of all British Columbians.”

They identify three deficiencies:

  • lack of scientific independence — Project proponents would remain responsible for gathering and presenting most of the evidence. This raises the risk of bias and compromises public trust in the process. They urge that information be gathered by experts who are independent of the project proponent and the government.
  • evidence will not be peer-reviewed — It will be reviewed by a Technical Advisory Committee, but membership on that committee will be made up mostly of ministry staff who may lack the required expertise. They recommend that a project’s risk to the environment be reviewed by independent, knowledgeable experts.
  • a lack of transparency — Bill 51 does not require public disclosure of all data generated by the proponent or of the evaluation by the Technical Advisory Committee. Nor are there any criteria for the minister’s final decision to accept or reject the environmental assessment. With few exceptions, all records and data should be made public, they argue, and the minister must decide based on explicit criteria.

The letter’s signatories may claim a modest victory. Bill 51, the Environmental Assessment Act, cleared committee on November 22, 2018 with an amendment to its regulation-making authority. “Qualifications respecting impartiality” is now expressly included in the criteria that may be considered when determining membership on a Technical Advisory Committee or when retaining consultants and mediators to assist in an assessment.

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