B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman refused to issue an Environmental Assessment Certificate (“EAC”) to Pacific Booker Minerals Inc. for its proposed Morrison Copper/Gold Mine project near Smithers, at the headwaters of the Skeena River. The decision by Ministers Lake and Coleman is in accordance with the recommendation of the Executive Director of the Environmental Assessment Office (“EAO”) not to issue an EAC, but stands in contrast to the August 21, 2012 conclusion by the EAO reviewers that the proposed project was not likely to result in any significant adverse effects with the successful implementation of mitigation measures and conditions.
The Ministers’ decision highlights the fact that while a project may meet the “technical” standard for avoiding significant effects (as concluded by the EAO), the decision-making power under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act allows for a consideration of broader issues (as outlined by the Executive Director of the EAO) that may result in the denial of an EAC. B.C.’s decision-making structure under the Environmental Assessment Act (and that of all provinces under their respective environmental assessment legislation) may take on increased prominence given the ability to exempt projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 by substituting the federal environmental assessment process with a provincial one. It is also interesting to note that in denying the EAC for the project, Ministers Lake and Coleman foreclosed another option available to them under the Environmental Assessment Act, which was to order that further assessment be carried out.
As far as we are aware, this is only the second time the B.C. government has refused to issue an EAC where the EAO has concluded that a proposed project’s environmental effects could either be avoided or reduced to an insignificant level. The first time was in 2011, when Minister Lake and Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong refused to issue an EAC to the Ashcroft Ranch Landfill Project, despite the EAO’s 2005 conclusion that the proposed project’s environmental effects could be mitigated to an acceptable level. Between the time of the EAO’s report and the Ministers’ decision six years later, municipal policy had shifted away from landfills towards waste reduction, composting and other disposal options. This again highlights the broad scope of the decision-making power under the Environmental Assessment Act.