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Don't hurry Raven approval

Editorial, Times Colonist, February 11 2015

The proposed Raven Coal Mine near Fanny Bay faces an uphill battle. That’s the way it should be. The developers must prove that economic benefits outweigh environmental risks, and the provincial government must put the protection of B.C. and its people ahead of short-term profits.

The Raven Coal Mine’s owner, Compliance Energy Corp., has re-applied for an environmental assessment certificate for the mine. The first application was rejected in 2013 because regulators wanted more information.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has 30 days to screen the latest application. It can decide to reject the application a second time or order a more detailed, 180-day review.

The company’s website says the project would generate $1.1 billion for local economies and create 350 full-time jobs in the Comox Valley and Port Alberni over the 16-year life of the mine. Another 200 jobs would be created during construction.

In 2012, the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce passed a motion in support of the mine, noting the potential economic benefits to the region. But the endorsement was not unqualified — it included the phrase “unless environmental studies are adverse.”

Getting approval from the Environmental Assessment Office is not a long shot, by any means — that body seldom rejects a proposal for a mine.

In 2011, then-auditor general John Doyle delivered a scathing report on the Environmental Assessment Office, which, at that point, had rejected only one out of 204 projects it had reviewed since 1995.

When the office approves a project, it issues an environmental assessment certificate that includes commitments the developer is legally required to meet. The measures are intended to reduce environmental damage.

The trouble is, Doyle’s audit found that the office didn’t know if the conditions it imposed in approving projects were “measurable and enforceable,” and didn’t monitor the projects to see if the companies were meeting the conditions set out in the certificate.

Premier Christy Clark promised at a mining conference last month to review the province’s environmental-assessment process, but more with an eye on speeding up the process than scrutinizing projects more closely.

“My view is if a project is environmentally unsustainable and the wrong project, we should say no. If it’s a project that is environmentally sound, we should say yes,” she said.

“But I think over the years, the environmental assessment process has gotten so long, so difficult and so complex that communities, proponents can’t get a yes, can’t get a no.”

If the Raven application makes it to the next step — the 180-day review — people will be watching closely. If the mine is approved, protests, blockades and court action could result.

Shellfish growers are concerned about possible contamination from the mine. The B.C. Wilderness Committee says the mine poses a serious risk to wildlife, watersheds and riparian zones. Mayor Mike Ruttan of Port Alberni worries about a steady stream of heavy coal trucks traversing his city’s streets, and piles of coal sitting on the waterfront awaiting transport to Asia.

Given the fading promises of prosperity from liquefied natural gas development, we worry that the temptation is great to encourage any resource projects that create jobs. We’re in favour of making the approval process more efficient, but it should not be rushed.

The province’s economy depends heavily on the extraction of its resources. It is also a province keenly concerned about protecting its incredibly beautiful and diverse environment. Furthermore, almost any development in the province affects or is affected by First Nations rights.

Any mining development must reconcile those three facets, and the long-term welfare of people and the environment should not be sacrificed for relatively brief regional prosperity.

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