Karen Campbell, who we introduced in our Summer 2011 newsletter, has been hard at work during her first few months here at Ecojustice.

In addition to tackling several important energy and mining files, she recently published a terrific piece in the Vancouver Sun about B.C.’s controversial pipeline projects.

Karen also took some time to do an extended Q and A for our readers.

Q: What inspired you to get involved in this line of work?

A: I spent my childhood going camping with my family in Ontario, and love the outdoors. When I graduated from law school I wanted to find a way to do some good with my law degree, and it seemed to make sense to combine it with my passion for nature.

Q: What are some of your personal career highlights / work you’re most proud of?

A: One career highlight was that in 2006, when the B.C. government proposed to build coal-fired power plants in the province, I was part of a group that traveled to potentially affected communities to tell them what the impacts of a coal-fired generating station would be and the extent to which the law would operate to protect them from any impacts – which was very limited.

After sharing our concerns with government, and speaking at community forums in the communities of Princeton, Keremeos, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, the government withdrew its plans to build these power plants.

Over the years, I’ve benefited greatly from meeting people who are trying to protect the environment in their community, and find my passion in trying to directly help folks understand the way the law works and use it to protect them and their communities.

Q: You’ve worked extensively with West Coast Environmental Law and the Pembina Institute. What brought you to Ecojustice? How would you say we are different from other environmental groups?

A: After working with WCEL and the Pembina Institute, I’m excited to join Ecojustice and focus on developing legal precedents that will stand the test of time.

I am interested in using my legal skills and understanding of the issues to find ways to deeply entrench environmental protection and climate action through the courts and the development of case law.

Q: What do you like best about working here at Ecojustice?

A: So far I like the people best. I find myself surrounded every day by a great bunch of smart, passionate, like-minded people.

Q: You’re known as a bit of an expert on energy/mining issues – how did you end up focusing on this area?

A: When I moved to British Columbia in 1998, it seemed that many environmental activists were focused on forestry issues, but that other natural resource practices – such as oil, gas and mining – were also worrisome. Perhaps I fell into these issues because it appeared to be a gap, though now I think that energy development is the biggest issue facing us in B.C. and in Canada.

The land and water impacts of oil and gas development are extensive and widespread, and there are real questions about whether “responsible development” is taking place.

Increasingly, concern about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is challenging the massive water use by industry for shale gas extraction. Proposed hydro-electricity projects – be it by independent power producers or the Site C dam are also concerning and will need to be balanced against our needs, and the environment’s need for water.

Q: The economy is inextricably linked with the energy sector, and that’s a big motivator to get projects approved. But where does that leave the environment? What’s at stake?

A: My sense is that a “wild west” mentality prevails in northeast B.C. Examples of poor practice abound, and some of these are found in reports by the B.C. Auditor General.

So far, the economy has prevailed over the environment; has prevailed over water resources; has prevailed over the needs of species in the region, such as caribou and more; and has prevailed over the rights of people to live in quiet enjoyment in the region.

Much more needs to be done to ensure that where oil and gas development happens, that it happens responsibly. Also, in a time where we are increasingly experiencing the impacts of climate change, we need to ensure that we are investing in energy development that is going to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, such as low impact renewable electricity and efficiency measures, NOT increasing greenhouse gas emissions through additional oil and gas development, such as shale gas and other unconventional gas development.

Q: As you get settled in, what work are you most looking forward to tackling? What’s your vision for a healthy environment?

A: I’m hoping to be able to help shine a spotlight on oil and gas practices, be it wells drilled on people’s land against their will, or on the infrastructure that supports this industry, such as the proposed Enbridge pipeline.

My vision for a healthy environment is one in which we are steadily ratcheting down our greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and finding ways to live more simply in our communities.

Q: Since you started here, you’ve had the chance to meet and mingle with some of our supporters (at our Vancouver donor event) – what did you take away from your interactions with our donors?

A: Attending the donor event in my first two weeks on the job was inspirational. Meeting people who share my passion and commitment, and follow through by supporting Ecojustice’s work made me even more excited to be here. People really do care
about the environment, and are taking action in part by supporting Ecojustice. It’s good to be a part of it.

Q: Some of our legal fights take years to gain traction – how would you encourage people to stick with us and the work we do?

A: Having spent a number of years working on law reform and policy change, there is no question that real durable change takes years and needs to happen on many fronts. By getting at root causes of environmental problems—challenging laws, changing laws, calling for reform to laws, the work Ecojustice does is critical in laying foundations as we attempt to minimize the damage we cause the planet.

Q: And finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

A: Before I had young kids, I spent my weekends outdoors, hiking, biking, canoeing or skiing.

Getting outdoors is still a priority, but sometimes I don’t make it much past the vegetable garden – about 1/3 of our back yard is under amateur cultivation. But as the kids get older, I plan to make getting back into the woods more of a priority.