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N.S. government looks for public feedback on environmental assessment process

A fishing boat passes the West Pubnico Point Wind Farm in Lower West Pubnico in 2021. The Nova Scotia government is seeking public feedback about how to improve the environmental assessment process for industrial projects looking to set up in the province. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
A fishing boat passes the West Pubnico Point Wind Farm in Lower West Pubnico in 2021. The Nova Scotia government is seeking public feedback about how to improve the environmental assessment process for industrial projects looking to set up in the province. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government is looking for public feedback about how to improve the environmental assessment process for industrial projects looking to set up in the province.

The work to modernize the regulations by 2024 is a requirement of the updated environmental legislation the Progressive Conservative government passed with all-party support in 2021.

According to a government news release, the updated environmental assessment process will take into consideration cumulative impacts, diversity, equity and inclusion, independent review, climate change, and Netukulimk, the Mi'kmaw concept of living sustainably on the land through respectful co-habitation.

Lorrie Roberts, an executive with the province's Environment and Climate Change Department, said the province and the world have changed since 2008, the last time the regulations were considered. The type of projects seeking environmental assessments have also changed, she said.

"We have a lot of renewable energy projects coming into the process and also a lot of innovation happening out there in the business world and so it brings some different types of projects than we might not have seen in the early 2000s, for example," she said in an interview.

'It's about time'

Karen McKendry, senior wilderness outreach co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said "it's about time" the regulations were looked at.

McKendry said the government has received feedback through the years about the process, but she worries that feedback isn't all being accounted for ahead of this round of consultation.

The government needs climate change and the biodiversity crisis reflected in what proponents are proposing as projects and how it will interact with those issues, she said.

She also thinks there needs to be clarity around the issues the government is considering as part of the process.

McKendy said she'd like to see biodiversity loss considered. She thinks the government needs to address an ongoing concern from the public about the 30-day consultation period in the environmental assessment process being too short and there not being support for the public in navigating documents that are often very technical.

"I've heard from community time and time again [that] 30 days is not long enough for any reasonable person to take in everything about the project that's coming to their community and provide intelligent feedback on the project."

Process 'to just say no'

Given dire concerns about biodiversity loss and climate change, McKendry said the province also needs a process "to just say no" to certain industries that do not help advance the goals required to protect the environment.

"You do still get projects that many Nova Scotians would agree wholeheartedly shouldn't even have come into this process that check all the boxes and make it through and get approved and then people are stunned that the projects got approved or even entered into the process."

She points to the lack of a strategic environmental assessment process where an entire industry can be previewed before it even comes forward to determine whether that's something people want operating in the province.

People can share input via a government website, by calling 902-424-0991 or by emailing EAmodernization@novascotia.ca.

The deadline for submissions is Oct. 6.

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