Audit reveals scofflaw Environment Department

The Yukon Environment Act is out of date, says assistant deputy Environment minister Allen Koprowsky. It was created before devolution and is in…

The Yukon Environment Act is out of date, says assistant deputy Environment minister Allen Koprowsky.

It was created before devolution and is in need of a complete review, to “regain its relevance and effectiveness,” according to a June 2008 government audit.

The 18-page report also reveals several ways the government has broken the law.

Every three years, the Environment minister is supposed to deliver a Yukon Conservation Strategy to the legislature.

This hasn’t happened since 1990.

The strategy is supposed to provide long-term guidance to the territory about its environmental policies and practices and lay out commitments and recommend conservation and sustainable development initiatives.

The strategy “has not been revised and it’s not intended to be revised,” said Koprowsky.

By law, the government is also mandated to table a State of Environment report every three years.

But it has “not met the targeted dates for tabling these reports,” says the audit.

As well, a yearly interim report is supposed to be tabled, but the 2006 report has not been “initiated,” says the government audit.

“I don’t have the details on that,” said Koprowsky.

To create these reports, it’s “a process of gathering information to undertake the assessment, developing the report, reviewing the report, then having it approved,” he added.

“It takes the department two to three years to collect info and compile a report.”

For the last few years, the opposition parties have made regular requests to see current State of the Environment reports tabled in the legislature.

“The environment is a top priority for Yukoners and has been for many years,” said Liberal environment critic Darius Elias in 2007.

“They want to know about the issues and how development is impacting Yukon and they want to be involved.

“One of the ways that Yukoners keep on top of these things is the Yukon State of the Environment Report.

“It provides early warnings and analysis of potential problems for the environment and allows the public to monitor progress toward the achievement of the objectives of the Environment Act.

“Why has this report not been produced, as required by law?”

“As far as tabling the report, when there’s a report available and ready, that possibly could happen here in the house,” said then-Environment minister Dennis Fentie.

“The government is much more focused on actually going to work on our environment than tabling pieces of paper and reports,” he added.

“Yukoners are well aware of their environment and the state it is in.

“If the member opposite thinks a report is going to save Yukon’s environment, I would challenge the member opposite to prove that to Yukoners — that some report is going to save our environment.”

The last report tabled, this spring, was a 2005 report.

The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, created in 1988 to “encourage sustainable development in the Yukon,” has also “ceased to function,” according to the audit.

It has not met since 2005.

The council “lost its momentum mainly because there were no significant issues put before it,” says the audit.

Recycling Fund reports have been dumped as well, according to the audit.

The Environment minister is supposed to prepare an annual financial statement and report on activities of the Recycling Fund.

But the last report was tabled in March 2004.

The audit also recommends the government consider the environmental impact of its purchases, as required by law.

“There were no specific provisions related to the ‘environment’ in these documents that could directly affect the purchase of goods,” says the audit.

The audit unearthed a problem with Environment’s inspection policies, too.

None of the inspection authorities achieved the inspection coverage they planned to achieve, says the audit.

“It is from the monitoring and inspection function that the Yukon government in part gets its assurance of whether there is acceptable compliance with the regulations, and whether the threats to the environment are controlled to an acceptable degree,” says the audit.

Environment fell behind its planned schedule of inspections, according to the audit.

And Energy, Mines and Resources, which shares inspection responsibilities with Environment, only carried out one inspection in 2007.

There should also be a risk-based approach to inspections, says the audit.

Otherwise, if a disaster occurs there will be “resulting questioning of why the inspection process missed the warning signs,” it says.

The audit also highlights major problems with storage-tank regulations, affecting gas station permitting.

One station was closed and the tanks were removed without the proper permits, while another was operating but failed to notify the government.

Finally, contaminated sites regulations need an overhaul.

The “fairness criterion” is not being met, says the audit.

Environment created a public registry for contaminated sites, so the public most likely assumes it contains a list of all contaminated sites, and this is not the case.

And the public registry is not easily accessible. It should be, says the audit.

The number of contaminated sites listed in the public registry has not changed since 1998. It remains at five.

But since the last audit, 2000 through 2003, the number of potentially contaminated sites has grown from 104 to 167.

Although the audit points out a number of serious deficiencies in Environment, Koprowsky sees a silver lining.

“It’s quite a positive report if you look at the general findings,” said the deputy minister.

“The Environment Act is very complicated,” he added.

“A review is a big undertaking.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

 gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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