LandKeepers News Archive
March 08 2009 | News Articles | Prince George Citizen
The Yukon way
Written by Gordon Hoekstra
Sunday, 08 March 2009
The Yukon’s ‘one-window’ environmental review process is drawing praise from both industry and environmentalists.
B.C.‘s northern neighbour may have a solution to balancing the environment and the economy
This is the second in a three-part series on the effects the environmental review process has on industrial development in northern B.C.
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The Yukon’s one-window environmental assessment process gets a mark of “reasonable satisfaction” from the territory’s industry, and despite some continuing concerns, grudging respect from environmentalists.
This process has caught the attention of the B.C. mining industry and the provincial government.
Concerned about $25 billion in provincial projects tied up in the federal environmental assessment process, Premier Gordon Campbell has said it’s time to work with Ottawa to eliminate duplication of the environmental review process.
B.C. mining minister, Gordon Hogg, who recently set up an economic mining task force, has already said a possible solution is using the Yukon model, where the federal government has largely devolved authority down to the territorial level.
The Yukon legislation was established in 2003, a direct result of a territorial and federal agreement that settled land claims with the majority of Yukon First Nations.
As a result, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board was created, a board that includes representation from First Nations. The board, which has its own staff, is at arms length from government.
There are six designated offices — the point of entry for the process — which deal with most issues, including permits for drilling programs for mining exploration, but also for smaller items such as the approval for a single power pole. Larger projects, such as the construction of a mine, are moved up to a screening review.
There are explicit timelines, which all parties must adhere to, including the federal government.
For applications dealt with at the designated office level, the timeline is less than four months, while screening reviews can take a maximum of two years, eight months. There is a higher level panel review process, but that has not been used yet. One of the largest projects assessed to date — the $152-million Carmacks copper mine — completed its review in 21 months.
The board makes recommendations with the government, usually the territory, having final sign-off authority.
Yukon Chamber of Mines president Carl Schulze says the process is not perfect, but it is generally timely and eliminates duplication with its one-window approach. “It’s overall reasonably efficient,” he says.
Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society also lauded the one-stop shopping, and the board’s extensive online registry where all documents can be viewed, and where the public can give input.
She also welcomed the fact government departments that are promoting projects are no longer assessing them.
Another positive, added Baltgailis, is the process is generally following timelines, and always allows for public input, even for small projects. “It has more potential than the old system,” she says.
However, concerns include that there is no recourse for communities and First Nations once decisions are made, said Baltgailis.
The Yukon Conservation Society would also like to see the board’s recommendations made binding.
Rob Yeomans, a spokesman for Yukon’s environmental assessment board notes: “Now that everyone has had time to chew on it, and go through it, we’re definitely seeing both sides seeing the positives from it.”
The fundamental difference between the Yukon process and the one used in British Columbia, is that here, major projects can encounter two reviews — one at the provincial level and another at the federal level.
There are timelines under the B.C. environmental assessment, but the federal process is more open-ended.
And while there is an agreement to harmonize the assessments, this does not always happen.
The result has been lengthy reviews of projects in northern B.C., some longer than three years for major projects. The Kemess North gold and copper mine was rejected after 4-1/2 years, while the Galore Creek gold, sliver and copper mine received the green light after 3-1/2 years.
An analysis by The Citizen of eight mines and a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C. caught up in the federal environmental assessment process, shows the projects are worth more than $7 billion, would create an estimated 4,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs.
“All the good intentions in the world can’t drive timelines,” says Capstone Mining president Steve Quinn, who has worked both in B.C. and the Yukon.
His company operates the small Minto mine in the Yukon, and is also developing the Kutcho project in northern B.C., a proposal to build an $183-million open-pit gold and copper mine, which has just entered the environmental assessment process.
Quinn suggests taking a page from the Yukon model, allowing the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office to lead the process, operating under the province’s timelines and authority. “It doesn’t take the federal government out — Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans still give input and make submissions — but they are no longer driving the process,” said Quinn.
He stressed it won’t necessarily make the process faster, but it will increase certainty — a key factor — because there are no longer parallel provincial and federal reviews.
B.C. does not have as many legislated timelines as the Yukon. Once a company has submitted an application in British Columbia, the review must take place in 180 days. When a final report and recommendations are delivered to the provincial government, the environment minister has 45 days to make a decision.
There is a critical difference between the Yukon and northern B.C., however.
Land claims remain an unresolved issues in the north of the province, and virtually every proposed major project sits on the traditional lands claimed by First Nations.
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council chief David Luggi does not dismiss the idea of a streamlined process, but cautions it would need to have greater First Nations involvement, something they have been demanding for some time.
“I think First Nations would like to have some discussion with the province and federal government in creating a one-window approach concept, but with elements of a First Nations review process,” stressed Luggi.
Mining Association of B.C. president Pierre Gratton, who has suggested the province examine the Yukon model, noted the territory has gone from a “basket case” to a very encouraging jurisdiction.
In the past seven years, total exploration spending in Yukon has increased more than ten-fold, from $8 million in 2000 to $140 million in 2007. Spending on mine development, which was non-existent in 2000, reached $72 million in 2007.
Whether the issue of unsettled land claims in northern B.C. can be addressed in a one-window model is a question to Gratton. “I don’t know,” he says. “But it’s certainly worth looking at.”
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