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RFK Jr. sticks it to Bill 30

Environmental lawyer critical of province’s lack of overall plan for IPPs



Robert F. Kennedy Jr. brought some pointed criticism to Whistler Wednesday, blasting British Columbia for Bill 30, legislation that "subverts democracy."

Kennedy, the son of former senator and presidential candidate Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy, is chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the Hudson River and its connecting tributaries.

He spoke to about 750 people in Whistler about environmental infrastructure at an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).

Kennedy touched on many environmental issues impacting the United States and saved some of his most biting criticism for the provincial government, chastising it for approving Bill 30 in 2006.

"When you see the destruction of the environment you will also see the subversion of democracy," he said. "The Squamish (community) said we don't want these hydro power plants in our district, the province has a rule saying it can't make a decision at the locality.

"It has to be the decision of the province and put it into the hands of corporations like the General Electric company, which secretly own half the hydro plants, over 700 plants that are going up all over this province."

Bill 30, which Kennedy referred to as "Rule 30," didn't unfold quite as he told it in his talk. Bill 30 was a legislation brought forward in 2006 that amended section 121 of the Utilities Commission Act, which gives authority to the British Columbia Utilities Commission to oversee all public utilities in British Columbia.

Section 121 of the Act states that nothing under the Community Charter or the Local Government Act, legislations that accord powers to municipalities and other local governments, can supersede the authority of the Utilities Commission.

Bill 30 amended that portion of the act to say that local government land use decisions cannot stop construction of a public utility facility.

The facility must also meet certain conditions: it must be situated on Crown land; obtain an electricity purchase agreement with B.C. Hydro, Powerex or FortisBC; and meeting necessary federal and provincial authorizations.

Kennedy's mention of "700 plants" also wasn't quite accurate. Opponents of IPPs often draw attention to the number of water licenses that have been granted on B.C.'s rivers, the first step towards developing an independent power producer.

Estimates have ranged anywhere between 500 and 700 water license applications - but that doesn't mean that power facilities will go up wherever these licenses have been granted.

B.C.'s Ministry of Environment has estimated the number of water license applications related to power generation at anywhere between 500 and 600, while IPP Watch, a watchdog site of the B.C. Energy Plan, estimates the number of current water license applications at 577, with 698 points of river diversions. An IPP developed on a single water license can have more than one river diversion.

The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, meanwhile, has estimated that there are 32 run of river facilities up and running throughout the province.

Speaking to Sea to Sky media after his talk, Kennedy said he's concerned that run of river projects are being developed in B.C. without a master plan.

"What we have now is really a kind of anarchy," he said. "It's a gold rush mentality where you have people rushing, not only to build the projects but to connect them to the main power grid with long power lines and do tremendous amounts of logging and destruction of these ecosystems.

"There's no overall plan, there's been no overall assessment of the impact, but each one of these projects should be assessed individually."

IPPs, however, weren't the only issue on Kennedy's agenda Wednesday night. He also talked about building a national power grid in the United States that could be built for less than the cost of the Iraq War, according to him.

"One of the things that Barack Obama has done is promised to build us a national grid in our country that can act as a marketplace where every American can hook into that grid to either buy or sell energy," he said.

"If you have a solar right on your roof or photovoltaic cells, and at some point your home is losing more energy than it's using, you ought to be able to sell that energy back on to the grid and get market rates for it."

Such a situation, Kennedy said, would be better than generating energy through resources like coal. A particular coal operation he talked about was "mountaintop mining" in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.

Mountaintop mining involves removing mountaintops to extract coal from inside. Dirt, rock and rubble from the mountaintop is then disposed in nearby valleys in what's called "valley fills."

Kennedy said this process has "blown the tops" of mountains in West Virginia and could one day flatten a landscape the size of Delaware.

"It's the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb once a week," he said. "They have uprooted and flattened the 470 biggest mountains in West Virginia."

Ultimately, Kennedy said, the Earth provides the infrastructure for people's health and spiritual needs, and that as such, all must work to protect it.

"We're protecting it because we recognize that nature is the infrastructure of our communities," he said. "We want to meet our obligations as a nation, a civilization, a generation, which is to create communities for our children."

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