Environment Minister George Heyman (Black Press)

B.C. environment assessment getting an overhaul

Indigenous role to be enhanced, but not with veto, George Heyman says

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman has appointed a 12-member advisory committee to review B.C.’s environmental assessment process, with an emphasis on keeping project approvals from being challenged in court by Indigenous communities.

Heyman announced the review Wednesday, emphasizing that while Indigenous people will have an increased role in decision-making, he does not intend it to mean a veto over resource development projects. He said the recent history of conflict and protest against industrial development suggests changes are needed.

“I think that’s because the public has lost confidence in the process,” Heyman said. “We’ve seen conflict with first nations, and industry has simply not known clearly what the conditions are.”

Heyman said already-approved projects, like the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, and others that are in the Environment Assessment Office process, are not affected.

“We’re going to have timely approvals, and industry will know what’s expected of them so we don’t face lengthy litigation in the courts or lengthy fights in communities,” Heyman said. “We can move good projects forward to a timely conclusion.”

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office is working with the First Nations Energy and Mining Council on a review that will continue through April. There will be regional workshops involving Indigenous communities, industry, environmental non-government organizations, local governments, unions and others to make recommendations.

A discussion paper is to be released in May after the regional workshops are completed, and Heyman expects to have changes made before the end of 2018.

The advisory committee is co-chaired by Bruce Fraser, a former chair of B.C.’s Forest Practices Board, and Lydia Hwitsum, former chief of the Cowichan Tribes and former chair of the First Nations Health Council.

Other members include Mark Freberg, director of permitting and closure for Teck Resources, and Josh Towsley, assistant business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers local 115.

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