In December 2016, the Environmental Law Centre in Alberta published a series of reports to review the current state of environmental rights in the province, drawing on examples and information from other jurisdictions. These reports are intended as educational materials; the website is open for comments and input. The first report, Do we have the rights we need? , identifies deficiencies: “Narrow standing tests for legal reviews and hearings; gaps and insufficiency in cost awards to support participation and informed decision making; failures to adequately recognize and manage cumulative environmental effects; insufficient review or hearing options for policies, regulation and administration of environmental decision making; and insufficient tools for engaging public participation in enforcement.”
While most Environmental Rights discussions are about procedures for establishing and enforcing rights, the report Substantive Environmental Rights relates to the right to a specific environmental condition, such as a “healthy”, “healthful” or “clean” environment. This report discusses definitions, which can be set in statutes or regulations. The report includes a helpful comparative table of language from other Canadian jurisdictions.
Third Party Oversight and Environmental Rights reviews and analyzes the use of administrative third party oversight bodies in various frameworks and other jurisdictions. The report makes recommendations for the design of a third party environmental oversight system for Alberta, where currently the provincial Auditor General does not have a specific environmental mandate, but conducts financial audits or process/system audits of various environmental matters.
The latest report, published on December 19, Citizen Enforcement considers the question of who can enforce environmental laws and what types of enforcement mechanisms are available to them – in Alberta, but also Ontario, Quebec, Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the U.S. The report concludes that citizen enforcement in Alberta relies primarily on the use of private prosecutions and the ability to request an investigation of an alleged violation, and recommends additional citizen-based enforcement tools to bolster enforcement capacity and to ensure accountability.
As for practical examples of the need for citizen involvement in environmental assessments and decision-making, Canadians need look no further than the federal government’s current review of the Environmental Assessment Processes . “EA Review – Report back from a public workshop” at Evidence for Democracy describes one person’s experience at the Environmental Assessment public consultations and summarizes the main concerns of attendees – including the need for transparency, community and traditional knowledge, and open and independent science. In two recent articles in DeSmog Blog, scientists describe how their input has been ignored in past environmental assessments and decisions, including the TransMountain pipeline expansion decision. Read “Canadian Scientists Say They’re Unsure What Trudeau Means When He Says ‘Science’ ” (Dec. 15) and “Open Science: Can Canada Turn the Tide on Transparency in Decision-Making?” (Dec. 20) . Yet there is an eagerness amongst young Canadian scientists to become involved; an Open Letter to the Prime Minister in November, signed by 1,800 young scientists and researchers, calls on the government to return scientific integrity to the environmental assessment process, and outlines five ways to do that, including the use of best available evidence, making information and data available to the public, evaluating cumulative impacts of projects and eliminating conflicts of interest. See “Five Ways to Fix Environmental Reviews: Young Scientists to Trudeau” in DeSmog Blog (Nov. 15 2016) .