Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, has seen up close the difference between federal and provincial environmental assessments.
In 2010, the province approved Taseko Corp.’s Prosperity mine, saying serious damage to nearby Fish Lake could be mitigated and that the social and economic benefits would outweigh the environmental impact.
But the federal government blocked the project after a review panel determined the mine would cause irreparable harm that could not be justified.
Now, Ms. Baptiste – who has fished for salmon in the cold waters of the Nemiah Valley – fears the Harper government is prepared to hand over to the B.C. government the sole responsibility for assessing Taseko’s new mine plan, which was tabled last November.
And that, in future, the provincial, rather than federal, government will review proposed resource projects.
While Ottawa is being widely accused of gutting the environmental review process, Ms. Baptiste has less confidence in the B.C. government, which, she says, has an abysmal record in taking into account the concerns of native communities like hers.
British Columbia may have more at stake than any other province in legislation introduced in Ottawa on Thursday to overhaul the way the federal government assesses major energy and mining projects.
On the one hand, the Harper government will devolve to the provinces responsibility over projects like the mines and natural gas processing plants that are planned for B.C.
On the other, Ottawa has signalled it will hold the reins more tightly in the contentious battle over pipelines, reserving the right to approve projects related to the oil sands, like the Northern Gateway or Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion, regardless of what a review panel might say about the environmental impact.