by Lewis Rifkind
There have been rumblings of discontent by certain resource extraction types about the environmental assessment process in the Yukon.
Some projects have been raised up from one type of evaluation to a more thorough and detailed one. Not only has this evoked discontent, in one case a project has even ended up in the courts.
All this in spite of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act having been tweaked by the previous federal government. the previous federal regime was the most gung-ho “rip those resources outta the ground” government this country has ever been afflicted with, and the changes reflected this mentality.
The new federal government has committed to undoing the worst of those tweaks. Even if we ignore this commitment, the Yukon’s environmental assessment process, as adjusted by the former government, is still seen as too lax by some mining and fossil fuel proponents.
To those who take issue with the current state of the Yukon’s environmental review regime, count instead your blessings.
The current process has the environmental assessor bringing their considerable in-house expertise and, where necessary, outside independent consultants to examine and review all proposed projects in the Yukon. This ranges from the most basic activities to the most technically complex proposals.
This expertise is then synthesized with public input. It is all done in an open and transparent manner, with documentation, reports and analysis being freely available for anyone with an Internet connection to review. This established process gives everyone, including industry, a clear and logical system to work with.
Having an effective environmental review process is also a means of channeling criticism, dissent and even rage that can exist against certain types of projects. Having an environmental review process that all parties, including those opposed to projects, can participate in is vital.
This means that not all recommendations will go the developers’ way. Some projects will be recommended to be turned down. Some will be recommended to be approved. But at least all parties have had an opportunity to participate, the project has received thorough scrutiny by an independent body and a recommendation has been developed that is in the best interests of the territory.
The alternative is what has happened in British Columbia: blockades of logging roads, protests along pipelines’ rights-of-way, and more lawyers running around than there are squirrels in the forest.
We can argue until the Yukon’s bison hunting quota is met about whether the Yukon environmental assessment process provides timely and adequate reviews. For the record, this columnist thinks it does, in spite of there having been numerous project approvals that instead he feels should have been recommended to not proceed.
What must be recognized is that the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act provides for a unique method of gathering everyone’s views on development projects - be they for, against, or neutral - within a single process.
Those who insist on weakening this made-in-the-Yukon process in favour of easier development should be very careful what they wish for.
They could end up with protestors at their project sites, court injunctions, and public relations nightmares.
The Yukon process is not perfect, but for those complaining about it being too thorough or too environmentally (or developmentally) friendly, at least there is a process that more or less satisfies most parties across the entire spectrum.
There will be those who will insist on weakening the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. To those people one can only respond that the groups and individuals who are currently channeling their environmental and socio-economic concerns through the current process will have to turn elsewhere to express their viewpoints.
And that, dear project proponent, is a polite way of saying “see you at the barricades.”
Lewis Rifkind is the Yukon Conservation Society’s mining analyst.