John Baird’s Ministry of the Environment seems intent to ram through and rubberstamp the environmental approvals for building new nuclear stations. Today is the deadline for making requests for intervener funding to comment on Bruce Power’s report on the environmental impacts of building new reactors its site on Lake Huron. The problem? We don’t know what environmental issues will be included the environmental assessment.

Typically when you make such an application, the Ministry of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would have already published the environmental assessment guidelines, which tell you what’s in the scope of the environmental assessment. This makes sense: you need to know what the content of the environmental assessment to be able to comment on it.

Not this time, however. The Ministry of the Environment has decided to skip this step.

On July 17th it published a public notice giving interested groups 30 days to make applications to comment on the content of Bruce Power’s environmental assessment report.

On August 6th, Greenpeace and Northwatch sent a letter to Minister John Baird stating that it is “inappropriate to initiate the intervenor funding process for review of the draft EIS, before the final guidelines have been issued.” We asked for the deadline for funding requests to be delayed until the guidelines were published.

Minister Baird has not responded.

Why is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency ignoring due process? Probably because it has made some commitment (to either the nuclear lobby or its friends in government) to push this environmental assessment through no matter what significant environmental or public concerns are raised.

On June 18th Greenpeace and around 50 other groups or individuals submitted comments on the draft environmental assessment guidelines. During the consultation period on the guidelines Ministry staffers stated publicly that the finalized guidelines would be issued on July 18th, which gave the Ministry just a month to consider and amend the guidelines based on the public comments.

A colleague inquired with at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) staffer last week regarding our request for the intervenor funding deadline to be delayed until the guidelines are issued. The staffer said that the Ministry had been “overwhelmed” by the number of comments they had received on the guidelines.

The fact that the Ministry has been “overwhelmed” shows that the public is highly interested and raising substantive concerns on Bruce Power’s proposal to build new nuclear plants.

The staffer also said that they couldn’t push back the deadline for fear of not meeting their timelines commitments. One must ask: their timeline commitments to whom?

The construction and operation of new reactors at the Bruce site, as well as the radioactive waste they will produce, could cause irreversible harm to the environment and human health for hundreds of thousands of years. The project should be considered carefully.

Indeed, one of the objectives of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is to consider projects ““in a careful and precautionary manner … in order to ensure that [the project does] not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

Politics seem to be trumping precaution, however, at John Baird’s Ministry of the Environment.

One of the submissions bruce_letter_to_baird_aug_08-finalGreenpeace made on the draft environmental assessment guidelines addressed exactly this issue. It documented how federal and provincial agencies are rushing through environmental reviews to accommodate the interest of Ontario and Bruce Power to build reactors quickly. It called on the government to be more transparent and apply the appropriate level of scrutiny to a project that could cause irreversible harm to the environment.

The nuclear lobby wants to skip and waterdown environmental reviews because it is at a disadvantage compared to cleaner and safety forms of energy. Renewables, conservation and local generation are quick-to-deploy. Nuclear plants take at least ten years to build, and there are always delays. If the nuclear lobby doesn’t get shovels in the ground soon, they’ll be replaced. And as it should be.

Unfortunately, government agency’s that should be our environmental watchdogs, such as the Ministry of the Environment, seem ready to rubberstamp environmental approvals on new nuclear plants instead of subjecting them to the rigorous review they deserve.