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Auditor general finds lack of provincial plan, First Nations notifications of hazardous spills

A lack of a provincial-level response plan and inconsistent notifications to First Nations about hazardous spills are just some of the flaws that B.C.’s auditor general found in a new report.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy audit looked at how the ministry handled hazardous spills between Nov. 23, 2020 and June 13, 2023. Since 2018, there has been an increase in these spills, according to the report.

Other shortcomings auditor general Michael Pickup found include the ministry did not ensure staff followed policies and procedures for identifying non-compliance, had not recovered substantive costs and did not report to the Legislative Assembly on the effectiveness of the spill response.

However, Pickup found that response officers assessed and monitored high-risk incidents and referred them to staff. Recovery staff also reviewed all incidents referred to them and compliance and enforcement staff acted when potential non-compliance was found.

Nine recommendations have been put forward to the ministry, which accepted all of them including:

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  • The ministry work with First Nations to update the plans it uses to coordinate a response 
  • The ministry review and update its training and development requirements to ensure current standards are met 
  • The ministry implements a process to help ensure that First Nations are notified about hazardous spill
  • The ministry address limitations with its emergency management software system to improve how staff use it to inform decisions

A full list of recommendations can be found in the report here.

“As the deficiencies identified in the audit were in key areas impacting the ministry’s overall management of hazardous spills, we concluded that the ministry had not effectively managed hazardous spills,” read the report.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman says the ministry “appreciate[s] the work of the auditor general for their review.”

“We fully recognize there are improvements that can be made in our systems and our frameworks to ensure greater effectiveness,” said Heyman.

“We take the recommendations seriously and have accepted each of them. They align with what we’ve learned through a proactive review of our emergency-response plans we began last year, as we work to better understand where gaps are and how they can be filled.”

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