Scientists call on BC government to boost scientific integrity in environmental assessments

A diverse group of BC scientists warns that the provincial government’s new environmental assessment (EA) bill misses the mark when it comes to science-based decision-making.

In an open letter delivered on Monday to Premier John Horgan, more than 180 university academics and science professionals call for stronger measures in Bill 51, including greater scientific independence, mandatory peer review of evidence, and more transparency in review processes and decisions.

“As scientists, we know it’s critical for science to be at the heart of decision-making, especially where the environment is concerned. If the BC government is serious about rebuilding public trust in environmental assessments, that science must be rigorous, transparent and objective,” said Michael Price, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Bill 51 was introduced in early November and includes important amendments that will change the way BC reviews and approves industrial projects such as mines, dams and pipelinesWhile the scientists welcome a number positive reforms contained in the bill, concerns have been raised about deficiencies in the proposed legislation that would entrench a “status quo approach” to gathering and considering evidence about a project’s potential impacts.

Under the new law, project reviews would continue to prioritize evidence generated by the proponent, without demanding independent peer review. The new legislation also contains no requirement that all the proponent’s data – and all records regarding assessment of the evidence – be made available to the public.

“When considering a project’s risks to the environment, evidence should be collected and interpreted by qualified, independent, professionals who don’t stand to gain or lose from the assessment’s conclusions,” said SFU professor, Isabelle Cote. “According to best practices in modern science, all information must also be shared with the public, and we believe this should be a clear requirement in BC’s new process.”

The lack of independent science and peer-reviewed evidence is one of the most significant flaws in BC’s current environmental assessment regime. As it stands, the proposed legislation does little to address this problem. The open letter urged elected representatives to consider these issues carefully while Bill 51 is debated in the Legislature.

The open letter may be viewed here: