26484Decision to let energy board rule on fish habitat 'disturbing': watchdog
- Dec 19, 2013Decision to let energy board rule on fish habitat 'disturbing': watchdog
BY PETER O'NEIL, VANCOUVER SUNDECEMBER 19, 2013
People fish along a B.C. river. Responsibility for assessing damage to fish habitat near a proposed pipeline project has been taken away from the federal Fisheries Department.
Photograph by: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun Files, Vancouver SunThe federal government has transferred its authority to assess whether a pipeline would damage fish and fish habitat from the Fisheries Department to the National Energy Board.
The agreement between Fisheries and the NEB was announced Monday, the day Kinder Morgan announced it has submitted its $5.4-billion plan to expand and modernize its pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.
The federal transfer, called "disturbing" by one fisheries watchdog group, was done as part of a broader Harper government program to "streamline application processes by eliminating the requirement for duplicate reviews," according to an NEB news release.
It is also intended to "promote clarity and consistency of the regulatory decision-making process."
As a result, the NEB "will now be responsible for assessing potential impacts to fisheries from proposed NEB-regulated pipeline and power line applications."
The Fisheries Department's agreement with the NEB, a quasi-judicial independent body
based in Calgary, includes a commitment to bring in "training and other knowledge transfer mechanisms" to the NEB to deal with fisheries protection and species at-risk matters.
Craig Orr, of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said the federal government is making a "disturbing" move.
"What expertise does the NEB bring relative to the Fisheries Act?" said Orr, noting that even Fisheries Department officials are struggling to explain to the public the nuances of the new legislation introduced in 2012 on fisheries habitat protection.
"So how much confidence should the public have in the NEB's ability to assure Canadians fisheries values would be protected with pipeline development?"
"DFO's continual willingness to further downgrade protection of critical habitat for Pacific salmon is shocking," said Green party leader Elizabeth May. She said it's now clear the federal definitions of recreational, commercial, and aboriginal fisheries under the new protection scheme came straight from industry lobbying.
"We need to restore the Fisheries Act to its previous effectiveness, and we need to push back against changing B.C.'s classifications of what constitutes a recreational fishery."
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