To protect the environment and avoid costs to British Columbians, the province is inviting feedback on ways to ensure owners of large industrial projects pay the full cost of environmental clean-up if their projects are abandoned.

B.C.’s economy relies on its abundant natural resources, which are safeguarded by high standards of environmental protection. Responsible industrial development ensures B.C.’s resources, and the ecosystems and communities that rely on them, continue to support and enrich the province’s future.

“Industries have critical responsibilities as B.C. strengthens stewardship of natural resources and our land, air and water,” said George Heyman, B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Upholding the highest standards of environmental protection, coupled with an effective system of financial protection, will encourage owners to develop cleaner, more sustainable business practices. In today’s world of heightened concerns about climate change, biodiversity and public health, measures like this are what the public and investors expect as part of responsible development.”

While most companies responsibly manage their environmental risks, some companies are unwilling or unable to do so, leaving British Columbians to cover the costs of environmental clean-up and reclamation. The Public Interest Bonding Strategy aims to require financial guarantees for projects that pose high environmental and financial risks.

In consultation with industry, Indigenous Peoples, non-government organizations and others, government has prepared a discussion paper and is inviting input on ideas for a made-in-B.C. approach to financial protections.

“Requiring companies to secure financial guarantees ensures that owners of large industrial developments are responsible for cleaning up after their projects,” said Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. “These requirements will improve B.C.’s environmental reputation, inspire public trust, increase investor confidence, support B.C.’s competitiveness, and strengthen relationships with First Nations and stakeholders.”

While some financial protections are in place for some industry sectors, a comprehensive review of existing legislation is needed to provide consistency and strengthen financial-protection requirements.

“Our village knows first-hand the negative impacts an abandoned industrial site has on the surrounding community and ecosystems,” said Kevin Cameron, mayor of Port Alice. “We are excited to see our local mill site cleaned up and look forward to companies being held responsible going forward.”

In 2005, Neucel Specialty Cellulose Ltd. purchased the Port Alice mill out of bankruptcy proceedings. Subsequently, control of the mill changed again, and in 2019, the site was abandoned. Since April 2020, following a court-ordered receivership, site stabilization and chemical removal have been underway.

This engagement will ensure that public and stakeholder feedback is considered as the Province develops its plan to protect the environment while supporting B.C.’s competitiveness. Once the plan is in place, any changes will include a transition period to allow time for industry to adapt.

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Featured image: Port Alice Mill. Credit: B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

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