Environmental regime under review

Yukoners are being asked this month for their thoughts on the territory's environmental review regime. A string of community meetings, which began in Old Crow on January 19 and will end in Carcross on February 4, are being h

Yukoners are being asked this month for their thoughts on the territory’s environmental review regime.

A string of community meetings, which began in Old Crow on January 19 and will end in Carcross on February 4, are being held as part of a five-year review of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.

Miners and conservationists alike say the law works fairly well, but both have their concerns. Miners want an environmental regime that is speedy and consistent. Conservationists would like to see a law with more teeth.

The law “actually works in a decently timely fashion most of the time,” said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

“It’s not a significant inhibitor of investment, anyway,” he said.

But regulators have yet to face their major test, in his mind—the permitting of a major mine project. “They still need to prove themselves,” he said.

Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society, would like to see the law amended so Yukon’s environmental review board has final say on which projects move forward.

Currently the board is only able to issue recommendations to government. She wants it empowered to make binding decisions.

Frequently, the Yukon government ignores the board’s recommendations, she said.

It’s unreasonable to expect the same government department that promotes projects to also play the role of regulator. But that often happens, said Baltgailis.

Another concern of Baltgailis is the tendency of regulators to only consider information fed into the environmental regime. This means if renewable resource councils or conservation groups don’t provide input, a project faces little scrutiny, she said.

Regulators did not hire an independent expert to review the Carmacks Copper project, which received a green light this September, until the conservation society and a First Nation had hired their own experts.

“It wasn’t until we did that that (regulators) went out and got their own outside expertise. Until that time they were counting on the company’s experts and the company’s information to base their judgments on,” she said.

With that said, she praised the professionalism of the board’s staff. “Without fail, if you call for information, if you ask for print-outs of maps, they respond,” she said.

The five-year review is being conducted by SENES Consultants Limited. Written submissions will be accepted until February 27. A final report is to be produced in July.

For more information, visit www.yesaa-senes.ca.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.