VANCOUVER – Olivia French, Ecojustice lawyer, issued the following statement in response to the Government of British Columbia tabling new environmental legislation on Nov. 5:

“Environmental assessments are critical tools that help ensure projects are safe for the environment and for our communities. When done properly, they also offer an important opportunity for the public to voice concerns about new developments. That’s why it’s so important that British Columbia has strong and enforceable laws that ensure environmental assessments in the province fulfill this important role.

Ecojustice is encouraged that Bill 51 explicitly includes measures that address reconciliation and sustainability. Bill 51 provides for Indigenous-led assessments and studies, and emphasizes consensus-building with First Nations. It would also allow the government to conduct regional assessments to provide a high-level understanding of the impact of developments in a given area.

Unfortunately, Bill 51 does not adequately prioritize weighing the environmental effects of proposed developments over other impacts.

For example, we know that urgent action is needed to address human-caused climate change and we need mechanisms to ensure that new projects are compatible with the province’s climate targets. Bill 51 does include measures that would require every assessment to consider how the project in question would impact the province’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets. However, climate impacts remain just one among many factors the ministers must balance in assessing proposed projects. And there remain no requirements for the ministers to comply with climate targets or justify approving projects that could compromise meeting those targets.

Ecojustice is also concerned that the proposed legislation still allows the government to completely exempt projects that would normally be subject to full environmental assessment. Additionally, project reviews will continue to rely primarily on evidence provided by the project proponent, rather than independently-sourced and verified information.

B.C.’s environmental assessment laws have long needed an upgrade and Ecojustice welcomes the government’s efforts to follow through on their commitment for environmental assessment reform. However, as Bill 51 moves through the legislature, Ecojustice urges legislators to make amendments that address B.C.’s responsibilities for meeting our climate targets.”

Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.