Wednesday, 8 August 2012
Northern Gateway pipeline, can the current Canadian assessment process support Prime Minister’s comments?
The Enbridge northern pipeline proposal has more than its share of detractors on our west coast. Certainly the debate was taken up an added notch by Prime Minister Harper in a speech that suggests that the decision will be based on science, not politics.
Fair – that was what the original intent of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) process was to be, a way of ensuring project benefits exceed risks.
Here lies a triple misdirection.
First is the belief that the existing standard EIA process is objective and comprehensive. Harper’s comments speak to the “economic costs and risks” and that projects are evaluated “on an independent basis scientifically”. While some economists may suggest that the discipline is a science, it was not the intent of the original EIA process which informed decision processes. Nor was the EIA process ever structured to be the only component of project evaluation.
Second, the project comes months after the Harper government “streamlined” the EIA process, which has raised considerable concern about the independence and objectivity of the process EIA process DrPHealth April 2012. The question raised previously was what will happen to the human health component of an already flawed EIA process?
One has to wonder about the timing of the Enbridge proposal, which came first, the proposal or the changes to the EIA process. If the EIA changes were actually independent, then the Enbridge proposal must be seen as opportunistic .
The third flaw, is the ultimate approval process for the project rests within Cabinet, a closed door, highly politically based location where transparency and objectivity is parked in favour of testing the political acceptability of any decision.
The objectivity of the EIA process will be tested by its ability to incorporate health sciences and social sciences in addition to environmental impacts. The test of the Harper government will be how this information is balanced on the “economic costs and risks” which remains enshrouded in political values and tested behind the closed doors of Cabinet. As for holding Harper and the government accountable for its actions, that is a duty of the democracy. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/08/07/pol-gateway-tuesday-harper-bc.html