The decision by the B.C. Supreme Court to send the Pacific Booker Minerals Morrison Mine copper/gold mine project back to the province for reconsideration is significant.
The entire 10-year saga of the company’s environmental application is available online, as is the entire documented process of any environmental assessment application.
You could sum up that 10 year process like this: PBM successfully satisfied all the conditions that arose during the environmental review process, and then was denied a positive environmental assessment certificate when the review package came before the executive director and the provincial ministers for final approval.
At the time, the ministers responsible stood behind an environmental assessment office executive director report which drew a conclusion opposite to the report’s final conclusion, recommending that despite the assessment findings, the project still shouldn’t go ahead.
The existence of a draft memo written by that same executive offering an alternate, positive assessment has been reported in the Globe and Mail.
Whatever one wants to make of this alternate memo – it may be no more nefarious than a set of debating notes pro and con an issue – it has added to the impression that something happened behind closed doors, which is exactly what the transparent application process is supposed to avoid.
The courts have decided, it seems, that the province’s decision was unfair to the process. Although it still isn’t clear what the province will do with the court decision, in the minds of supporters of the project an important battle has been won.
In the end, it might not make much difference to shareholders because the province isn’t bound to approve a mine, or any other project, simply because it receives environmental approval. But they should be required to explain and justify their decision if their decision contradicts the conclusions of their own provincial environmental assessment branch.
Otherwise, what’s the point of the environmental assessment process? If politicians, who serve at the pleasure of the electorate for relatively brief mandates, who are often not specialists or even experienced in the portfolios they carry, can simply veto projects based on unspecified – or hastily and unconvincingly specified – concerns, then the process isn’t fair and needs to be rethought.
On the other hand, many will say that the environmental assessment process isn’t fair already: it puts too much power into the hands of the money makers and excludes smaller, less well-financed voices in a process which overwhelms them with an overwhelming amount of data for consideration and comment.
The Morrison mine project was hotly contested by the Skeena Fisheries Commission (SFC) out of the Hazelton area. Funded by several area First Nations, the scientific group put up serious challenges to the idea that environmental harm could be mitigated, especially to local fisheries.
If you look at the public record of the environmental assessment process, you see that the SFC and its supporters came on very strong in the final months of the assessment process. Their correspondence made it clear that the province would be in for a fight if they approved the project.
Is the Morrison mine project a fight the province doesn’t want to have right now? With the JRP final recommendation due any day, and multiple natural gas pipeline proposals in the works, how many environmental fights can the province sustain at one time?
If the work of the SFC was an important part of the province’s final decision, then that needs to be made clear, even if only for the record. That would go a long way towards explaining the province’s decision in the eyes of those concerned about arbitrariness.