B.C.'s environmental assessment process is failing to properly oversee certified major projects or ensure that promised work to make up for damage to the environment is actually carried out.
That's the finding of B.C. Auditor General John Doyle, whose newly released audit plants a big red flag over monitoring work done by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
"Adequate monitoring is not occurring and follow-up evaluations are not being conducted," Doyle said in the audit, adding that means the EAO can't guarantee that requirements to mitigate damage are working.
The audit includes a series of recommendations intended to strengthen the process.
Environmental groups say the findings show the assessment process is simply a rubber stamp for industry.
"We’ve been worried for a long time about the lack of environmental oversight in this province,” Sierra Club BC executive director George Heyman said.
“This report confirms that the situation is worse than we suspected.”
Premier Christy Clark recently criticized the federal government’s decision to reject the Fish Lake mine proposal, saying that B.C. has a strong environmental assessment regime and the contentious Prosperity mine should proceed.
The B.C. EAO had issued an environmental certificate for the mine near Williams Lake that was later overturned by Ottawa on grounds the mine would harm fish and wildlife habitat and infringe First Nations rights.
Heyman said the findings undercut Clark's claim.
"How can British Columbians trust the process that is intended to ensure that our fish, water, wildlife and human health are adequately protected?” he asked.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming called it a damning report that shows government cuts to monitoring and enforcement have left proponents self-reporting on their own work.
"Standards are utterly meaningless without monitoring and enforcement," he said.
The report also noted the EAO doesn't formally track certified project conditions and commitments for compliance and lacks mechanisms for enforcement.
Projects in the Lower Mainland that are certified through a B.C. environmental assessment and now under construction include the new Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 widening and the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR), which opponents have repeatedly warned risks damage to wildlife habitat along the river and threatens Burns Bog.
Both were required as conditions for approval to embark on major works to protect habitat and mitigate damage, including specific measures in the case of the SPFR to safeguard Burns Bog and ancient archaeological sites near the Fraser River.
The audit praises the use of independent monitors to track mitigation compliance for the SFPR and Port Mann projects.
Of 219 projects that have entered the environmental assessment process since 2005, 115 have been approved and 15 were determined to not require assessment while just one was refused certification and 16 others were terminated or withdrawn. The remaining 72 projects are still under review.