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Provincial audit slams B.C. environmental regulators

The B.C. government is failing to adequately assess the environmental risks of large-scale development projects, according to an independent legislative audit. 

In a report released this morning, the B.C. Auditor General charged that mines, power plants, waste management systems, and other major infrastructural developments throughout the province are not receiving satisfactory oversight after being approved. 

In a routine audit of the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), Auditor General John Doyle concluded that the agency's monitoring and regulations of certified projects "is not sufficient to ensure that potential significant adverse effects are avoided or mitigated." 

The EAO is the provincial agency tasked with assessing the potential environmental impact of major industrial, infrastructural, and commercial projects. 

However, even after a proposal receives certification from the agency, the EAO remains responsible for ensuring that it remains in compliance with the terms of that certification, along with all other environmental regulations. 

"Adequate monitoring is not occurring and follow-up evaluations are not being conducted," writes Doyle. 

The report included six recommendations to improve the efficiency and accountability of the assessment process. 

"We agree with all the recommendations," says John Mazure, acting associate deputy minister of the EAO. "What this report has done is taught us to focus a bit more on this issue, to accelerate what we were planning to do anyway, and in some areas, to turn our minds to things we perhaps hadn't thought of." 

Mazure went on to add that the agency is already beginning to act upon many of the Auditor's recommendations and that it has appointed a director of strategy and quality assurance to oversee those changes. 

In the meantime, he insists that the public should not be concerned over the regulatory process currently in place. 

"I think our process is well regarded," he said. "We will certainly be improving our process for any projects here on out, but it isn't as if we won't be looking at the projects that have already been certified and not doing anything about those." 

Since the inception of the agency in 1995, 219 projects have either been assessed or are currently under review by the EAO. Over that same period, one project has been refused certification. 

The Auditor General will write a follow-up report in October 2012.

Ben Christopher is completing a practicum at The Tyee. 

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