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Editorial: Sound judgment

It’s an old monster under a familiar bed. Last week, a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge ruled that a provincial cabinet minister took an improper environmental shortcut to approve a project that the government is eager to see underway. The court action was launched by the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The minister had approved a proposal to build a massive salmon hatchery and fish farm in Placentia Bay, overruling a recommendation by his own staff that the project undergo a full environmental impact statement (EIS).

The EIS could potentially delay Grieg NL Nurseries Ltd.’s project by at least a year.

Once again, we’re treated to arguments about how environmental legislation might drive away development.

Here’s Marystown Mayor Sam Synard during an interview with CBC: “We’re not new to aquaculture. Aquaculture has been going on in the Connaigre (Peninsula) now for what, over a decade now? And it’s not new to us. So why all of sudden is it new to us now?”

Well, that’s exactly why the environmental assessment process is important; it helps to tell if things are different, and in this case, they actually are.

The part of the assessment process the Grieg application did go through points out that the project is based on significant new things. To quote the judge in the case, their proposal was believed to be “the largest expansion of salmon aquaculture in Eastern Canada, if not all of Canada, the first commercial use of European-strain triploid salmon in Eastern Canada, the first use of the proposed specific cage system in Newfoundland and Labrador and the first time that production had moved from 1 million to 2 million fish per farm.”

So, larger than any other project, using different fish with new technology on a larger scale.

With all due respect to Mayor Synard, that’s new in significant ways.

We don’t even have to look further than the government’s own statement about the environmental assessment process: “When the potential environmental effects of projects are of concern, the process generates real benefits by providing for comprehensive project planning and design, maximizing environmental protection, enhancing government co-ordination, accountability and information exchange, and facilitating permitting and regulatory approval of projects.”

It’s very much a co-operative venture; the government, on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, isn’t trying to stop the process, just to make sure it is environmentally reasonable. Ahead of time.

(One issue that muddying these waters, of course, is that the provincial government strongly supports this project, having committed to owning up to $45 million in Grieg shares. Hardly a disinterested regulator.)

The act, properly applied, is merely doing what it is meant to do: foster environmentally responsible development.

It’s better — and easier — to prevent an environmental mess than to try and clean it up later.

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