(transcribing this post from my iPhone travelling to Vancouver on the bus. Very open to feedback on typos and other errors)
Kamloops North MLA (and my former city council colleague, as Mayor) Terry Lake said yesterday that people shouldn't let emotions get the best of them and should trust the BC Ministry of the Environment (MOE) approval process. These comments come after the MOE approved the air permit for the Aboriginal Cogeneration Corporation's plant that aims to gasify creosote soaked railway ties to create energy.
I generally agree with Terry's comments. I've sat around a few tables with MOE officials in Kamloops and, while I don't know them well, they have always struck me as professional, competent people.
So, I've been wondering why I find myself questioning the air permit approval and, moreover, why a great number of people I've talked to really question the approval.
I've always found Terry to have a great trust and respect for our government institutions. He seemed to me a real "company man" i"at city hall, and I presume he acts similarly within the provincial government.
Most people seem to be going in the other direction. People seem to have much less trust in government and, at the same time, are feeling more empowered to research issues themselves on the Internet. We see such partisanship in our democratic system that we perhaps assume that bureaucrats either consciously or unconsciously feel the need to take sides as well.
I am not a big fan of some of the strategies employed by the Save Kamloops group, who oppose this gasification plant - but I think I understand where they are coming from. For example, I feel the speaker they brought in, Dr Paul Connett, acted much more like an activist than an academic. He insulted people on the other side and MOE officials uneccessarily, I felt, and this weakened his credibility in my eyes. I appreciate the citizen activism within Save Kamloops, and think that they should focus on providing reasoned, solid arguments that might persuaded undecideds on this issue. Still, I get the emotion. It does make a lot of sense to me.
Specifically to the ACC plant, the main concern is health impacts. This is a pretty emotional issue for almost everybody, I would say. The technology used in the project is seen as unproven in real world application; the project proposal refers to a "demonstration", or something very similar. And no one - not the Ministry and not ACC - has really explained to the public their belief that the demo part is irelevant to air quality concerns. I'm still open to hearing and accepting this explanation, at this late date. The lack, however, of upfront and early public engagement on this has been quite a significant misstep. I'd say it has bred a lot of the mistrust.