POLICY WORKING PAPER #1
Renewing our Commitment to a Sustainable Environment
British Columbia has thousands of miles of ocean coastline, a great inland sea (the Georgia Strait), three great river systems (the Skeena, the Fraser and the Columbia), thousands of lakes and a variety of forested and non-forested eco-systems. Over 90 per cent of BC is Crown land. The stewardship of this land is perhaps the single greatest responsibility of the government -- something that will have an impact on every citizen and every future citizen of the province.
This responsibility cannot be left to any single agency or interest group.
People living in communities in all regions of the province – including people in First Nation communities – are key to sustainable, knowledgeable resource management and need to be actively involved at all decision making levels. And for the same reason that maximum biodiversity tends to be an indicator of healthy eco-systems, we should encourage experimentation, local solutions and decentralized decision making whenever possible.
But always, we need to keep our focus on ends and not means. We need to develop new policies and update old policies to protect our quality of life, which depends fundamentally on our natural environment. How successful we are in accomplishing that task will ultimately be judged only by future generations.
Land and water
A new NDP government should make a commitment to ensure an adequate number of professional resource managers are on the ground and in the field, talking to people and gaining first hand knowledge of the characteristics of the local environment. Adequate staff must be restored immediately to local offices of the Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, and they must be provided with the resources they need to manage our Crown land, parks, protected areas, waterways and riparian areas.
We should commit to appoint a Royal Commission on Forest Tenure, with a mandate to make recommendations on what forms of tenure will best promote the long-term economic, social and ecological vitality of British Columbia, and laying out a plan for creating that tenure regime. The introduction of new legislation related to tenure, such as working forest legislation, in the advance of the establishment of a Royal Commission should be strong opposed.
In consultation with local governments, a new NDP government should strengthen and streamline the Drinking Water Protection Act, introducing new provisions concerning sustainability and conservation, and groundwater protection and management. In addition, we should work closely with the federal government to invest in water related infra-structure and to strategically manage this most important resource.
The marine ecology
Protection of wild salmon stocks must be a fundamental goal, and future expansion of fish farms should only be by way of closed containment pens. New mechanisms need to be established to ensure existing marine tenures are better monitored and regulated.
The province should work closely with the federal government to quickly establish new marine protected areas and develop a strategy to rehabilitate the Georgia Strait ground fishery.
The moratorium on off-shore oil and gas exploration should be maintained for as long as it takes to guarantee the marine ecology will not be compromised by the development of off-shore resources.
The air we breathe and the energy we need
New electricity supply should be acquired through a competitive process which does not exclude British Columbia Hydro. Approvals of new projects should continue to be the responsibility of the BC Utilities Commission, which should be given an enhanced mandate to require integrated resource planning, manage total provincial levels of green house gas emissions and foster appropriate technologies and energy conservation.
Projects such as the Georgia Strait Crossing (GSX) project, which will ultimately triple electricity based green house gas emissions in British Columbia if it proceeds, should not be supported. A policy goal should be energy self-sufficiency for Vancouver Island. Ways to achieve this goal include: energy conservation and efficiency, small scale hydro development, cogeneration, conversion of beehive burners to clean burning electricity generators, and development of new clean, renewable energy technologies such as wind, tidal and landfill methane.
British Columbia should enact legislation modeled on California legislation to regulate vehicle emission standards. The province should work with California and the federal governments to have standards modified to include life cycle green house gas emissions, which would provide an advantage to hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Our urban environment
The quality of life in urban centres critically depends on water and air quality, transportation options, green space and public amenities. All three levels of governments must cooperate closely to protect our quality of life, and local governments should also be given new options to protect the urban environment. (For example, tools to regulate pesticide use and enhanced resources to develop urban transit.)
The catastrophic fires this summer have highlighted the issue of the development/wilderness interface. Hopefully as part of a full scale inquiry into the causes and response to the fires, we need to develop new policies to better manage the interface zone. These may include new authority for local government to regulate land use, and will certainly include better management of Crown land.
Environmental fiscal reform
The cost to the economy of polluting or waste producing activities should be properly accounted for, and incentives for environmentally friendly decision making should be developed.
In the short term, we should consider developing “closed-loop” systems which reward good environmental decisions – for example, by taxing energy inefficient light bulbs at a higher rate, and using that revenue to reduce the cost to consumers of energy efficient light bulbs.
In the long term, we should work with other governments and build public support for a tax-shift agenda which increases taxes on activities which impose a negative cost on the environment and use those revenues to reduce other taxes such as income taxes or payroll charges.
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