The Giant Mine remediation approval process is a rare example of the federal government having to seek an environmental assessment approval in order to remediate harm that it already caused. This put the government, more used to the role of regulator, in the role of proponent. In that role, government lawyer Kenneth Landa experienced the stresses and dissonance of trying to fit the environmental assessment hearing process to a set of complex problems it was never designed for. This illustrates one of many ways that current environmental assessment processes for major projects raise public expectations that they cannot meet.
For example: Unlike most projects that go through environmental assessment, everyone did agree that the heavily contaminated and highly dangerous mine site does require remediation. But is the EA hearing panel or the federal Treasury Board to decide how much federal taxpayer money is to be spent on the project? Who gets to decide the public interest in such a conflict? What is the legal effect if native people in Yellowknife refuse to consent to the consequences of a cost limit imposed by Treasury Board (considering that the project will already cost $1 billion for a temporary solution)? Many local people, including First Nations, wanted all the arsenic dug up and taken somewhere else, anywhere else, at enormously greater expense and at risk to many other people. Who speaks for the people in those other places, and what is their role in a public hearing in Yellowknife?
Ken Landa gave a well received talk about these challenges in Ottawa earlier this month. He has kindly allowed me to post his powerpoint, click Ken Landa on Giant Mine EA.