B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office is failing to do an adequate job monitoring compliance at mines, power plants, big tourist resorts and other major projects, the province's auditor general says.

The EAO, as it's known, reviews proposals which can determine the fate of major projects worth billions of dollars. It issues a certificate of approval only if it's satisfied the project meets all environmental standards.

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B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office is failing to do an adequate job monitoring compliance at major projects and power plants, the province's auditor general says. (B.C. Government)

But Auditor General John Doyle isn't satisfied with the follow-up once the office issues its approval.

Doyle says the EAO's oversight isn't sufficient to ensure compliance and enforcement, or to avoid significant adverse impacts from some of the projects it's approved.

"Adequate monitoring and enforcement of certified projects is not occurring and follow-up evaluations are not being conducted," Auditor General John Doyle said in statement issued on Thursday morning.

"We also found that information currently being provided to the public is not sufficient to ensure accountability," said Doyle.

When an environmental assessment certificate is issued, the conditions and commitments surrounding its issue should be measurable and enforceable so staff can monitor the project for compliance with the certificate conditions, said the statement.

"Because this does not happen consistently, the Environmental Assessment Office cannot assure British Columbians that the conditions and commitments stated in the environmental assessment certificate are being met," he said.

Lack of monitoring alarms NDP critic

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming says the report raises real concerns about the way major industrial projects are monitored in B.C.

"Well, I think this is alarming to British Columbians who trust that government is doing its job to make sure that clean air and water and a clean environment is being monitored and that there's enforcement,"  said Fleming.

"The Auditor General found the Liberals are relying on self-reporting without inspections instead of having qualified staff on the ground ensuring that companies are living up to their commitments to protect the environment," said Fleming.

Even more disturbing, according to Fleming, is the fact that the EAO does not formally track or independently pursue complaints about the impact that projects are having on the environment.

"The Liberals can talk about environmental standards all they want, but standards are utterly meaningless without monitoring and enforcement."

Report includes 6 recommendations

In his report, which was issued on Thursday, Doyle made six recommendations to improve the work of the office.

  • Ensure commitments are clearly written in a measureable and enforceable manner.
  • Continue to work with the Ministry of Environment to finalize a policy framework that will provide provincial guidance on environmental mitigation.
  • Clarify the post-certification monitoring responsibilities and compliance mechanisms for each commitment.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive compliance and enforcement program that includes an integrated information management system to monitor project progress and ensure compliance.
  • Conduct post-certificate evaluations to determine whether environmental assessments are avoiding or mitigating the potentially significant adverse effects of certified projects.
  • Provide appropriate accountability information for projects certified through the environmental assessment process.

The EOA response was included in the A.G.'s report.

"EAO acknowledges the audit findings concerning challenges and opportunities during the post-certification phase of environmental assessment and has, in fact, been working with other government agencies to enhance its activities in this area prior to the audit. The audit findings will serve to strengthen EAO’s prioritization of this important component of environmental assessment," said the statement.

The office has already appointed a director of strategy and quality ensurence to improve oversight.

"I am encouraged that, during the course of our audit, the Environmental Assessment Office addressed some of the noted deficiencies, such as appointing a Director of Strategy and Quality Assurance," said Doyle.

The auditor general is a non-partisan, independent officer of the Legislature who reports directly to the Legislative Assembly on the effective of various government programs.