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NS doesn't track environmental assessment compliance, says Auditor General

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/3/2017 1:16:00 PM

Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment is doing a poor job of monitoring compliance with the terms and conditions imposed by environmental assessments, says the province’s Auditor General. The department agrees that it could do much better, and says it has measures in place to improve performance.

Auditor General Michael Pickup released his 2017 environment-related performance audit report on November 1, 2017. In that “Report of the Auditor General to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly: Performance”, he examined compliance and enforcement around environmental assessment terms and conditions.

Approval, it seems, is a near-certainty. Environmental assessment approval was sought for 54 projects over the period 2013 to 2016, and 53 were given the green light, according to the report.

Pickup took a closer look at 22 of those 53 approved projects. Together, they had 672 terms and conditions attached to their approvals. Pickup selected a few conditions for each and asked the Department of Environment to confirm that the conditions were being met. The department, however, was unable to do so for 23 of 53 terms and conditions. The reason? Officials hadn’t checked.

Pickup said he wasn’t convinced the terms and conditions imposed would even reduce risk to the environment if they were enforced. Conditions often lack detail, deadlines and reporting requirements.

“Not checking to see that certain requirements are met, and not knowing if those requirements are effective, weakens the whole approval process,” he said in a statement. “Frankly, it is hard to understand why this hasn’t been done.”

Part of the problem is that, unlike for industrial approvals, Nova Scotia has no electronic means of tracking compliance with environmental assessment requirements. This makes it difficult to assign inspectors to the task of monitoring compliance.

According to the department, that will change. A new System of Notification and Approval Processing (SNAP) was put in place earlier in 2017 that should allow the tracking of terms and conditions of environmental assessments.

A separate initiative within the department is looking at the clarity of terms and conditions. This may include the addition of clear timeframes for compliance and specific reporting requirements. This initiative is scheduled for completion in 2018-2019.

The November 2017 report also includes chapters on accounting for contaminated sites, climate change management and previous audits.

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