There is a lot of discussion about the negative impacts of the absence of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), but what about present EIAs that don’t live up to their expectations? The monitoring and follow-up stages of EIA where monitoring compliance with conditions and regulations in addition to verifying effectiveness and accuracy of impact predictions (Noble, 2009, p. 16) is an element of EIA that can fall through the cracks. It is my opinion that it isn’t enough to include a monitoring program in an EIA because inclusion on paper and following-through are not synonymous.
In Canada, nine out of thirteen provinces and territories have the largest extent of their legislative requirements in monitoring and compliance (Hickey, Brunet and Allan, 2010, p. 51-21). Alberta who isn’t one of the nine has recently taken steps to improve this process as expressed by Peter Kent, Minister of Environment in the below video. Here it appears that Alberta will be implementing a more comprehensive environmental monitoring program to improve environmental quality in Alberta.
Minister Peter Kent Announcing Alberta Monitoring Program
However does including monitoring into environmental regulations automatically equate to better impact assessment? The answer is not necessarily! One of the most recent examples is that of forestry in Ontario. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Gordon Miller, stated recently that the Ministry of Environment in Ontario is not enforcing the terms of an environmental assessment to monitor wildlife species in Ontario’s forests (Miller, 2012, p. 12). This is supposed to be required under an EIA that was put in place 18 years ago which is legally-binding under the Environmental Assessment Act (Watershed sentinel, 2012). Unfortunately this may have resulted in knowledge gaps about Ontario’s wildlife and potentially inaccurate wildlife policies (Watershed sentinel, 2012).
On other occasions, monitoring may be present, but inadequate. The Canadian Press published an article on June 5th 2012 stating that research has shown that there is NOT a buildup of Mercury in fish in the Athabasca River (adjacent to the massive Fort McMurray Oil industry). The Environment Canada scientists involved state that the data wasn’t sufficient and that there needs to be a better monitoring system in place (Canadian Press, 2012). This shows that it isn’t only absent monitoring that is a problem, but verification of proper monitoring as well.
Therefore although the implantation of a monitoring program in Alberta is a step in the right direction – this goal is easier said than done. It isn’t enough to write legislation for monitoring or state monitoring as a goal. It is actually creating purposeful and useful monitoring which is sound, transparent and open to the public that makes the difference. All being said, I hope that Mr Kent and the Albertan government follow-through with this prospect and succeed in implementing a good monitoring program; A program where the results are more favorable than examples of the monitoring absence in forest wildlife of Ontario or the inadequate monitoring in the Athabasca River.
Hickey, G. Brunet, N. and Allan, N. 2010. A constant comparison of the environmental assessment legislation in Canada. Environmental policy & planning 12 (3), 315-329.
MacIntosh, J. 2012. Mercury not increasing in Athabasca fish, but better data needed. The Canadian Press, June 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/06/05/sci-athabasca-mercury-fish-study.html (accessed October 13, 2012).
Miller, G. 2012. Losing our touch- Annual report 2011/2012. Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, October 2012. http://www.eco.on.ca/uploads/Reports-Annual/2011_12/Losing%20Touch%20I%20EN.pdf (accessed Oct 14 2012).
Noble, B. 2009. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practices (2nd ed.), Oxford U. Press: NY.
Watershed Sentinel. 2012. Ontario Fails to Report Legally Required Wildlife Impacts from Logging. Watershed sentinel, October 2. http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/ontario-fails-report-legally-required-wildlife-impacts-logging (accessed October 12, 2012).
YouTube. 2012. Min. Peter Kent, Oil sands monitoring announcement. Uploaded by YourAlberta on Feb 7, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQSfCxECaIs (accessed October 14 2012).