A gold seeker uses a rocker box for placer mining in the 19th Century, the activity that sparked European settlement of British Columbia during a series of gold rushes. (Wikimedia Commons)

OUTLOOK 2020: New B.C. rules for environment, Indigenous consultation

Placer mines, work camps have new restrictions on water use

The B.C. government’s new environmental regulations have taken effect, with new standards for public and Indigenous consultation for industrial projects that apply in 2020.

The NDP government’s overhauled Environmental Assessment Act is in force as of December, in what Premier John Horgan has described as the first of many laws amended to conform to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The province became the first jurisdiction in the world to commit to implement UNDRIP during the fall legislature session.

Environment Minister George Heyman said more work remains to make environmental assessment work as intended. One issue he identified when the law was amended was that Indigenous communities often have overlapping territorial claims, and don’t agree with one another about whether an industrial project should proceed.

“Additional regulations to address dispute resolution, application of Indigenous knowledge and other concerns to Indigenous people are being developed in collaboration with Indigenous leaders and nations in a process guided by the new Declaration o the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act,” Heyman said.

RELATED: B.C. begins overhaul of environmental assessment

RELATED: Indigenous rights first task for 2020, Horgan says

Environmental assessment must now include additional comment periods and earlier collaboration between the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office and local communities. The province has legislated requirements to consider economic, social, cultural and health effects of projects, including the province’s ability to meet greenhouse gas emission targets.

The new assessment procedure promises to keep the previous government’s “one project, one assessment” approach between federal, provincial and Indigenous jurisdictions, although “each jurisdiction retains its decision-making authority,” the ministry said in a statement this week.

Also in effect are new regulations for using water in mineral exploration and small-scale placer mining operations, which have historically not required provincial permission. The new rules limit the size of an unregulated exploration or mining camp to 20 people.

The ministry can also require a permit “if there is a risk of potential impacts to streams, other authorized water users or cultural heritage resources, such as sites that have historical or archaeological significance to a community or Indigenous peoples.”


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