B.C. updates law on environmental spill response and preparedness

VICTORIA - British Columbia's environment minister says potential polluters will face new penalties for spills and stronger rules governing cleanups as the government moves to amend environmental legislation.

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Mary Polak said Monday amendments to the Environmental Management Act also seek to establish a new spill preparedness and response system to tackle environmental emergencies.

"This legislation will allow us to require that companies not just report a spill and clean it up, but they actually have to be showing us that they have plans to be prepared that they are able to prevent spills," she said. "And, as much as possible, when a spill does occur there are requirements not only around clean up but also going on to restoration."

Polak said B.C.'s existing law is out of date and she expects new regulations to go in effect next year. Consultations between government, industry, First Nations and other groups, including some environmental organizations, have been ongoing for the past three years, she said.

"This will expand and build on our existing legislation," said Polak. "It will address gaps and help us catch up to other jurisdictions."

She said the amendments on oil spill response, prevention and recovery address one of the province's five conditions for its support of oil pipelines.

B.C.'s five conditions to support pipeline projects include receiving regulatory environmental approval, First Nations support, economic benefit, as well as marine and land spill response, prevention and recovery systems.

Those conditions apply to the proposed Trans-Mountain and Northern Gateway pipeline projects to transport Alberta oil-based products to the west and northwest coasts.

Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said her organization will monitor the spill response and recovery provisions in the regulations.

"We need better spill response," she said. "We want a system where the public is more involved. Right now local communities have no idea what their role is when it comes to a spill."

NDP environment critic George Heyman said environmental protection is far down on the government's priority list.

"It's very hard to understand how this can be a world-class spill response when this government simply does not have the resources or people on the ground to do some serious monitoring when there is an oil spill or even identify when a spill has taken place," he said.

The amended law will include new fines for offences ranging between $300,000 and $400,000, and jail terms of up to six months.


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