B.C.'s highest court rules that mines inspector does not need to consider impact of climate change

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      A Victoria asphalt company has won an important victory in its efforts to proceed with an industrial project.

      It came when three judges on B.C.'s highest court upheld a mines inspector's refusal to consider climate change in issuing a permit to O.K. Industries Ltd.

      The ruling came in a dispute between the Highlands District Community Association and four respondents: the attorney general (David Eby); the minister of mines, energy and petroleum resources (Bruce Ralston), the chief inspector of mines (Herman Henning), and O.K. Industries.

      "It is my view that HDCA’s submission fails to recognize the proper scope of the Mines Inspector’s authority within the statutory scheme, and inappropriately asks this court to direct the Inspector to consider a specific issue that is not required in the applicable legislation," wrote Justice Barbara Fisher in her written ruling.

      She also stated that the community association's submission "seeks a legislative response to a problem of global magnitude, but provides no basis for the court to intervene".

      Her ruling was endorsed by Justice Anne MacKenzie and Justice Bruce Butler.

      Because it's a unanimous decision, this reduces the likelihood that the Supreme Court of Canada would grant leave to appeal should the community association wish to take the case to the country's highest court.

      The Highlands is a scenic and rural area that's home to 2,200 residents northwest of Victoria.

      In 2016, O.K. Industries applied to the District of Highlands to rezone its 27-hectare site to develop a rock quarry.

      The district rejected it, so the company applied for a permit the following year to the then B.C. Liberal minister of mines, energy and petroleum resources.

      On March 18, 2020, a senior mines inspector granted the permit in the face of significant opposition from local residents. By this time, the B.C. NDP was in power with the support of the B.C. Greens.

      According to the recent B.C. Court of Appeal ruling, the inspector concluded that there were "no health, safety, economic or environmental grounds to deny a permit".

      The Highlands District Community Association sought judicial review. It argued that the inspector's refusal to consider the impacts of climate change "constituted an improper fettering of his discretion and rendered the decision to issue a permit unreasonable".

      A chambers judge in B.C. Supreme Court rejected that argument even though he accepted that there could be climate-change impacts from the development of the rock quarry.

      But he also noted that the association did not demonstrate how these effects would be felt differently by its members in relation to everyone else.

      "The judge also concluded that Canada’s international commitments to reduce carbon emissions do not go so far as to mandate consideration of climate change impacts for every industrial project, regardless of scope," Fisher wrote, "and it was within the purview of the legislature to require climate change to be considered for some projects and not for others."