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EDITORIAL: Keeping an eye on process is key

So, if Nova Scotias Environment is failing to monitor the bulk of projects in the province, just what are they doing to justify their existence?

Were getting used to hearing from the auditor general about financial laxity in how government handles certain finances or when a department is lacking in accountability. Its alarming when a pattern is noted that fails to protect the well-being of people in the province or the environment.

Auditor Michael Pickup said in a report released Wednesday, as detailed in an article by The Canadian Press, that the Environment Department has a slack record in ensuring terms are met involving the safeguarding of such precious natural assets as wildlife and groundwater.

The department approved 53 of 54 project applications between 2013 and 2016, the report said. That should suggest some stellar, well-presented pitches, shouldnt it?

Unfortunately the public has no way of knowing. Pickup said of 22 of those projects examined by his office, nearly half of the 53 different terms and conditions werent met – in other words, putting the environment at risk.

What is the point of approving a project if there is no followup, the monitoring that the public would tend to assume is part of the process? The two arms of the safeguarding process have to work in tandem to have any effect.

But that apparently cuts to the heart of the problem.

The report has this to say: “Inspectors told us they had concerns related to the enforceability of some terms and conditions. Inspectors believed their lack of involvement in the development of the terms and conditions contributed to this issue.”

Thats interesting. One would expect that inspectors of industrial developments would have direct knowledge and understanding of whats involved. Why, indeed, would they not be included in laying out the points a company has to attain?

The report will no doubt help confirm suspicions among some members of the public that government tends to be pro-industry because of the economic ramifications. Not to say thats a bad thing, but approvals cant come at the expense of environmental health.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin has responded saying his department is taking action to improve its track record and adopting recommendations in the auditors report.

Lets hope so. But continued monitoring of the monitors would be in order.

When it comes to regulatory measures run by government, we dont want unnecessary hurdles and red tape. But primary areas of concern must be met: protection of peoples health, of workers rights and of the environment.

The onus is on industry to demonstrate that what it hopes to develop wont be a collective burden down the road. The only way to ensure that is by keeping a close, constant eye on what they do.

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