Evaluating the Environmental Assessment Process in Canada and British Columbia: A Case Study of the Prosperity Mine Project

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Author: Mehdic, Anur
This study evaluates the environmental assessment (EA) process based on a case study of proposed Taseko Mines Limited Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine (the Project), approximately 125 km southwest of Williams Lake, British Columbia (BC). The Project triggered BC’s provincial and Canada’s federal EA process. The two governments subsequently developed a joint review panel process, and agreed to common terms of reference. However, in June 2008, BC’s Minister of the Environment, ordered the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BC EAO) to carry out its own separate EA; therefore, two separate EAs were applied to the same proposed Project. Following BC EAO’s review, BC approved the Project in January 2010, while in November 2010, Canada rejected the Project based on the recommendations of a federal panel. While using a common terms of reference for their assessment of the same Project, the two governments came to profoundly different conclusions with respect to the environmental and sociocultural effects of the Project. The divergent EA outcomes offer a unique case study, and highlight that values as well as science conflicts may be present throughout EA, and can influence professional judgments and EA decisions. This report analyzes the divergent assessment outcomes for the Project, and assesses the degree to which the current EA process is inherently value-laden versus a rational science based approach. The report completes a best practice evaluation of both EA processes to assess their respective strengths and weaknesses. The principal conclusion is that there needs to be a fundamental restructuring of the EA process from a rational comprehensive planning approach, to a collaborative planning approach that recognizes the inherently value-based and discretionary nature of EA.
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