by Julia Hill, Sept 2019
We hear a lot about responsible resource development. But what is it really?
Some would have you believe that simply extracting natural resources and turning them into commodities that society can use is the definition of responsible development. Full stop. But it’s more complex than that, because citizens of the Northwest value more than monetary wealth and jobs.
At SkeenaWild, we’ve done a lot of thinking about what characterizes development that is in the best interest of our region – that is, truly responsible.
Here are the five aspects we feel are important:
First, responsible development is well planned. This means government and communities playing an active role in determining appropriate sites for developments such as LNG plants and pipeline corridors.
Instead, the past five years saw a “Wild West” scenario in which 16 LNG companies collectively proposed a spaghetti dish of pipelines across our province. Creating multiple pipeline corridors with the same origin and terminus poses unnecessary environmental impact. So does siting an LNG plant on top of critical Skeena Salmon rearing habitat. This lack of planning often results in crisis and division in our communities.
If senior governments had provided leadership early on, it would have not only prevented environmental damage, it would also have provided greater certainty for proponents.
Second, responsible development is assessed objectively, in the interest of communities and the environment.
The environmental assessment process was flawed in large part because it relies heavily on information generated by development proponents themselves, through consultants. There have been serious issues with the validity of such information, undermining the integrity and public confidence of the assessments.
We believe responsible development requires fully objective, arms length assessment of project impacts. That’s why SkeenaWild supports the provincial government efforts to overhaul B.C.’s environmental assessment process and “professional reliance” system.
Third, responsible development keeps a fair share of benefits in the communities where the development takes place.
The Northwest ought to be more than a giant funnel that extracts wealth in our region and funnels it elsewhere, with a trickle coming back in the form of grants for which communities must compete.
The Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance is an initiative that aims to gain a fair share for our region’s communities. SkeenaWild supports their proposal, as does every local government from Haida Gwaii to Vanderhoof. We also support procurement policies which maximize local people being hired and local goods being purchased.
Fourth, responsible development embraces the shift towards First Nations co-management. This is the new reality in our region, and we believe it is a positive one. To fully realize the potential of this shift to co-management, investments must be made to enhance First Nations’ capacity. It must also ensure transparency and accountability and involvement of local communities – the same things we demand of non-indigenous governments.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, responsible development takes a long view. Trends such as climate change pose tremendous challenges for our stewardship of resources. Whether it is mid-term timber supply or tailings ponds for open pit mines, many of our actions today have implications for generations into the future.
There are those who would like to further polarize the resource development debate, to simplify it as an “us versus them” scenario. We believe this approach is the very opposite of being responsible.
However, with good information, planning, engaged communities, and a long view, we think better resource development decisions are well within our reach.