By Lara Tessaro and Sean Nixon, Ecojustice lawyers

This spring we saw the federal government unleash an unprecedented attack on Canada’s environmental laws with its omnibus budget bill. Chief among the changes contained in the 425-page Bill C-38 was a complete overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) — something we told you was bad news for citizens who want a say in what happens to the air, water and land that we all share.

We stressed the important role that environmental assessments play in making sure that we take steps to minimize the impacts industrial development has on the ecosystems that sustain us. Environmental assessments also offer a crucial opportunity for people to speak up and be heard when decisions that affect the environment are being made.

That’s why after Taseko Mines announced it was seeking approval of a new proposal for the controversial Prosperity Mine project, we took action to make sure that public interest groups and concerned citizens are not silenced under the revised CEAA. In 2010, the federal government rejected an earlier version of the project, a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine in British Columbia.

In July, we wrote to the Review Panel assessing the New Prosperity Mine on behalf of our client, MiningWatch Canada to make the case that it should be allowed to participate in the Panel’s hearings. Furthermore, we argued that the Panel should not take a restrictive approach to allowing participation in its hearings, for MiningWatch or any group, and suggested that the Panel take a flexible approach that seeks to promote broad participation.

Late last week, we got word from the Panel that it would follow a “liberal and generous approach to determine interested party status for this review,” and that MiningWatch had been granted standing. The Panel’s ruling adopted some of the criteria for participation that we had suggested in our July motion.

Importantly, the Panel granted standing to participate in its hearings to nearly every person or organization that applied, and even opened some of its hearings to all members of the public.

It’s an encouraging sign. This strong ruling signals that, even under the amended CEAA, panels can and should promote the ability of Canadians to express their views on major industrial projects. Our work to ensure that decision-makers interpret and apply the new environmental assessment law in as progressive and broad a manner as possible is one of the ways Ecojustice is helping mitigate the more worrying features of Bill C-38.

Meanwhile, our other work under CEAA continues in earnest. This week, Ecojustice lawyers are in Prince George, B.C. presenting evidence on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. And later this month, Ecojustice will also represent environmental interests at hearings for the Shell Jackpine oilsands expansion project. Our victory in securing standing for MiningWatch in the Prosperity Mine hearings was recently brought to the attention of the Shell Jackpine Mine Expansion Panel, and will hopefully positively influence that Panel’s approach to granting standing at the hearing.

As for the New Prosperity Mine assessment, our attention now turns to preparing for the hearings themselves. Thankfully, MiningWatch along with dozens of other groups and individuals now have the right to participate fully.