What Dennis Oland and Nova Scotia Environment have in common

I thought I might learn something about how Environmental Assessments are conducted by going through some of the on-line records.   There are 170 complete Assessments since 2000 available.  I thought I would record mundane items like dates, result, proponent, consultant, and so on, seeing if patterns emerged.  It's a nuisance jumping from screen to screen but it didn't take long to detect a pattern of conditional approval in exactly 50 days (promised by Environment Nova Scotia in various documents).

Like many Provincial datasets, the Assessments are arranged as inconveniently as possible - the ending date is in a table, but the filing date is in free text. There is no categorization of type of undertaking, and the consultant's name is buried in the offering document.  You know the department has all the info prettily arranged on a spreadsheet somewhere, but they are shrouded in secrecy.

The 'conditions' of the conditional approval are a confusing and unhelpful mix of boilerplate (you must start within two years, 30 days notice, definitions) and very specific instructions (The Approval Holder shall provide an updated hydrological assessment prior to Project operation within Development Areas B and C).

I expected some unapproved projects,  I only found one, and that was later approved (Envirosoil in Bedford).  Thinking that pattern would continue, I settled on examining submissions since January 1 2015 - 34 projects.

These are all class I projects, and the present filing fee for an assessment is a rather large and precise $17,250.40.  Total for 34 is $586,513.60

Only the latest 5 projects have comments online as follows:

WhereGovernmentOtherPublic
MacLellans Mountain Quarry Expansion Project910
Asbestos Waste Disposal Cell Project Middle Stewiacke16080
Asbestos Disposal Facility South Ohio1700
Highway 104 Twinning Sutherlands River to Antigonish Project1719
Canso Spaceport Facility Project29188

Public debate  certainly varies, based on local sentiment.  All 80 public comments opposed the Stewiacke Asbestos operation, the 88 comments on the Canso spaceport are heavily in favor.

Here is a chart of type of undertaking and days to completion:


And a map with different symbols for different types of projects (click for details)



So what has this got to do with Dennis Oland?  For one thing, the verdict is never in doubt.  The accused hires a good lawyer and gets acquitted.  The proponent hires a good consultant and gets approved. 

There is no jury, just a judge.

Even when sentiment goes against the defendant, like the Middle Stewiacke public comments, the judge can ignore it.

When there's a problem like a missing cell phone or an unexplained dry cleaning or a dump in the middle of a wetland, the judge can make it disappear -"reasonable doubt" it's called.  With time, the cell phone is forgotten and no one investigates the drainage.

The cops can make a mess by peeing in the toilet.  Consultants can overlook inconvenient facts.

At bottom, I think Environmental Assessments as presently constituted are deeply flawed.  Nova Scotia Environment has engineered a process to minimize public input, but even the briefest look around - clear cuts, water contamination, fish farms - shows government is far outclassed by Mother Nature's complexities.  In the age of global warming and climate change, we need to find the right solution, not just the convenient one.

Here are the obvious problems:
  • Proponents pay for the assessment and a hefty filing fee
  • Therefore Assessments are not neutral, unbiased science
  • Evidence shows a favourable outcome for the proponent is 100% guaranteed
  • It's virtually impossible that proponents only have good ideas
  • There is never divided opinion within government
  • Public Notice is dependent on uncertain channels
  • Public support is given weight
  • Public opposition is not given weight
  • There is a 41 page Proponent's Guide to Environmental Assessment
  • You have just read the only opponent's guide.
Here's all the data assembled by me for you to play with (click a heading to sort):



Gus Reed