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Canadians support stronger science in environmental decision-making but industry has mixed feelings

New research finds that Canada’s government has widespread support from diverse sectors of society to strengthen the scientific basis of environmental impact assessment.

MEDIA RELEASE | May 7, 2018

Environmental laws protect Canada’s natural resources — from fish to grizzly bears, clean air to clean water. Understanding potential risks to these resources from industrial projects and developments is the domain of environmental assessment.  Federal environmental assessment law is currently undergoing revision by the Government of Canada.

Published today in the scientific journal FACETS, new research finds that Canada’s government has widespread support from diverse sectors of society to strengthen the scientific basis of environmental impact assessment.

“These results show that the Canadian government would improve society’s support for environmental decision-making if they strengthened its scientific basis,” says Dr. Aerin Jacob, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative’s conservation scientist and the paper’s lead author.  

The researchers analyzed all written comments submitted to the federal Expert Panel Review of Environmental Assessment Processes and classified if the comments explicitly expressed a position for or against five scientific components of environmental assessment: openly sharing information, cumulative effects, scientific rigour, transparency in decision-making, and independence between regulators and proponents.

They also categorized the authors of each submission into one of five sectors used by the expert panel: industry or industry associations, Indigenous groups, non-governmental organizations, individual/academic, and government body or agency.

Across all sectors, 86-100 per cent of submissions that expressed an opinion about the scientific components were in support of open access to information, strengthened evaluation of cumulative effects, and increased transparency, demonstrating clear consensus on those three scientific components of impact assessment.

Yet, 73 per cent of industry submissions stated that there was no need for greater independence between project proponents and environmental regulators, and 60 per cent were against strengthening scientific rigour. In the other sectors, there was profound support for these two aspects of science in environmental decision-making.

“The degree to which the Canadian government strengthens the scientific rigour and independence of impact assessment will indicate whether environmental decision-making in Canada is created for industry, or for the rest of Canada,” says co-author Dr. Jonathan Moore of Simon Fraser University.

"Effective environmental legislation helps maintain and restore biodiversity and human well-being," says co-author Dr. Adam Ford from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. "Policy outcomes with the greatest level of success are those informed by the best available evidence and supported across diverse sectors of society."  

Changes to the existing environmental assessment process could bring a sea change to the way Canada evaluates and regulates industrial development including hydroelectric dams, fossil fuel extraction, mines and their associated infrastructure, says Jacob.

“This research demonstrates clear steps to strengthen federal environmental assessment processes, founded in science and with social support,” she says. “But the proposed Impact Assessment Act in Bill C-69 falls well short of recommendations repeatedly made by the Expert Panel, scientists, and policy specialists to strengthen the role of science in environmental assessment.”

Read the full paper here (open access): http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/facets-2017-0104   


Relevant photographs are available upon request.

For further comment please contact:

Dr. Aerin Jacob, Conservation Scientist, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 778-676-2478, aerin@y2y.net

Dr. Jonathan Moore, Associate Professor and Liber Ero Chair of Coastal Science and Management, Simon Fraser University, 778-782-9246, jwmoore@sfu.ca

Dr. Adam Ford, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology, University of British Columbia Okanagan, 250-826-3101, adam.ford@ubc.ca

Dr. Alana Westwood, Science and Policy Analyst, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 902-410-4260, alana@y2y.net (Available for interviews in French)