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BC exempts sweet gas plants, ski resorts from enviro assessment process

The B.C. government has exempted some gas processing plants from its environmental assessment process and changed the process of environmental review for ski resorts.

Cabinet made the changes under the Environmental Assessment Act last week by an order-in-council.

The change to "sweet gas" processing plants kicks in at the end of this month. Before the change, a sweet gas plant beyond a certain size and capacity would be reviewed. Now, regardless of its size and capacity, a sweet gas plant will receive no environmental review.

"The size trigger had no scientific basis whatsoever," Environment Minister Mary Polak said today. "These are plants where the technology is very well understood, so there is not a lot of work that needs to be done to understand what the impact will be of a given plant."

Other than size, the other trigger for an environmental assessment in the past included a gas plant's level of sulfur emissions, or sour gas. This trigger will remain in place, Polak said.

Anna Johnston of West Coast Environmental Law likens the changes to those made in 2012 to the federal Environmental Assessment Act, which she said effectively cancelled up to 3,000 environmental assessments across the country.

"This is another step in the deregulation of environmental protection," she said. "It is the provincial government stepping away from assessing the potential impacts of projects."

Polak said exempting ski resorts from the assessment process eliminates duplication between that process and the Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations' master plan agreement process. The assessment exemption for ski resorts takes effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

"The only part that is missing from the master plan agreement they use is a public consultation process," the minister said.

Polak said the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources will introduce a broad public consultation process into the master plan agreement process by the new year. "They will adjust their process to mirror ours," she said.

Some advocates speculated the changes were made to ease the way for the Jumbo Glacier Resort. The resort, which is not yet built, has a environmental assessment certificate set to expire October 2014, depending on whether the company breaks ground at the site before then.

Polak denied that the changes have anything to do with Jumbo.

Bill Metcalfe is a print and radio journalist based in Nelson, B.C.

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