Polluter pay model ‘isn’t strong enough’: B.C. environment minister admits

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By Matt Kieltyka Metro
Jennifer Gauthier/ Metro B.C.’s marine oil spill response team practices an emergency clean up in Howe Sound on September 12, 2013.

As first reported by Metro, an internal government email (see below) between high-ranking Ministry of Environment staffers on March 31, 2014 cited “hundreds of spills on [an] annual basis where gaps occurred or improvements are needed.”

Chief among those concerns is the polluter pay model.

“We recognize that the current system of polluter pay isn’t strong enough. We’d like to see it strengthened,” said Polak when scrummed by media about the email in the Legislature.

In theory, polluting companies are responsible for the cost of clean up and remediation efforts after an environmental disaster.

In reality, Graham Knox, director of B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Program, writes “without clear rules and guidelines […] the responsible party could ultimately walk away if it so chose.”

Knox said if a spill affects public land in B.C. and Washington State, only “the public on the U.S. would be entitled to compensation for loss of public use.”

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert, whose staff found the email as part of a Freedom of Information release, told Metro the email proves taxpayers could be on the hook.

Polak said the email is part of an ongoing consultation process as B.C. looks to draft a new land-based spill response plan.

“It’s very clear that if we are going to fill the gaps that are present, that we acknowledge are present, it is going to take the role of industry in contributing to our capacity to prevent and to respond to spills,” she said. “It can’t just be falling on the hands of government, and therefore the taxpayer.”

The government has often touted its commitment to establishing “world-leading” land and marine-based spill response plans.

Work on that will continue over the coming year, Polak said.

“At this point, what we want from the spills intention paper, and ultimately the final policy document, is recommendations as to where we need to act and where industry needs to act,” she said.