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BC Libs zapped regs for private power, doc shows

B.C.’s powers to protect key wildlife areas have been chiselled away by a government directive intended to placate private power companies, according to two environmental groups.

“What you see is the ministry of environment no longer having the ability to uphold protection of endangered species if it stands in the way of independent power,” said Jessica Clogg, senior counsel for West Coast Environmental Law.

The document in question is a confidential ‘decision note’ signed by environment deputy minister Doug Konkin on March 18, 2009. It appears to remove the authority of the Ministry of Environment to block industrial developments – such as independent power projects (IPPs) – that could impact protected wildlife areas.

The current government has touted IPPs, such as run-of-river hydro projects, as a green source of energy. But many groups fear the private developments destroy river ecologies and encroach on wilderness areas with roads and power lines.

Any IPP capable of generating more than 50 megawatts must be approved by the BC Environmental Assessment Office. Sometimes the projects get approval even though they could impact protected wildlife areas that are home to endangered species.

In those cases, the private company applies to the Ministry of Environment for an exemption to the rules. Previously, it was up to a regional manager to decide whether a project got the go-ahead.

But the March 18 decision note – made public by the Wilderness Committee – suggests the provincial government wants to change the process.

“Government does not want to create a situation where an exemption is withheld after [an environmental assessment] Certificate has been issued,” the decision note reads.

The document recommends that regional managers no longer be given the authority to say ‘no’ to a request for an exemption.

“If a Regional Manager does not wish to issue the exemption it would elevate to the Minister,” it reads. The document argues this option is “likely to be perceived well” by the proponents of industrial developments.

“Behind the scenes, we can see in the language of this thing how the Ministry of Environment seems to be mostly concerned with keeping the private power guys happy,” the Wilderness Committee’s Joe Foy said.

Though Foy was concerned about the document’s implications, he wasn’t sure if its recommendations had actually been implemented. Environment ministry spokesperson Kate Thompson refused to comment on confidential documents.

“All we can deal with as bureaucrats is what’s published and publicly available,” she said. Environment minister Barry Penner did not respond to The Tyee’s phone calls Thursday .

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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