Is the Law Green?

THE FERNIE FIX'S GREEN EDITION is great to get us all thinking about how we can reduce our impact on the environment. However, this legal article is difficult to make “green,” particularly since environmental lawyers are usually only in bigger cities, and I am a small-town lawyer and can’t be so specific in my practice. Don’t get me wrong, I care about the environment, but I wasn’t quite sure where to start to write my “green” legal article. Thus, a little research was in order and as a result, this article is comprised of ideas and information from on-line sources.

Firstly, I learned that because the environment is not identified in the Constitution, neither the federal nor provincial governments have exclusive jurisdiction over it. What this means, practically speaking, is that there are both federal and provincial laws that govern the protection of our environment. Municipalities also have the power to make bylaws to protect the environment.

The Environmental Management Act (“EMA”) is the main provincial statute in British Columbia dealing with the environment. Many of the laws created by the EMA are directed toward waste and emission control for big corporations and businesses. However, there are some regulations that form part of the EMA that have an effect on the average person.

There is the Recycling Regulation of the EMA, which sets out requirements for the province’s recycling program. The recycling program has expanded over time and now includes: beverage containers, electronics, solvents, pesticides, tires and fuel. The government has made this recycling program available, so it’s now up to us to take advantage of it and recycle as much as possible.

The Ozone Depleting Substances and Other Halocarbons Regulation of the EMA prohibits the release of any ozone depleting substance from air conditioners and refrigerators. A person violating this regulation will be subject to penalties.

The EMA also establishes the Conservation Officer Service. Conservation Officers play an important role in the Elk Valley with fisheries and wildlife protection. Conservation Officers have the power to enforce the EMA and many other pieces of legislation dealing with the environment. Conservation Officers have similar powers of search and seizure as police officers so as to enable them to investigate violations of environmental laws. If you are encountered by a Conservation Officer when you are out in the bush, don’t give him or her a hard time; they are only trying to protect our beautiful valley and the wildlife in it.

As mentioned, municipalities also have the power to pass environmental bylaws. For example, the City of Fernie’s Pesticide Use Control Bylaw No. 2093, 2010 came into effect on January 1, 2011 and it prohibits the application of non-essential pesticides. This means that you can’t spray pesticides to maintain your lawn, shrubs, flowers or garden. Maybe you can take it one step further and go totally organic.

The City of Fernie is a signatory to the Columbia Basin Water Smart Charter and has therefore set a target to reduce water usage by 20 percent. In order to achieve the targeted reduction, the City has, among other things, introduced bylaws to allow it to initiate a volunteer water-usage metering program (see the Consolidated Water Connection and User Charge Bylaw No. 1594 for complete details). Even if you don’t voluntarily enroll in the water usage meter program, you can do many things to reduce your water usage, including, but not limited to: not watering your lawn (it’s really not necessary), not hosing down your driveway or walkways (I’ve seen it) and catching rainwater for your garden.

A full examination of “green” laws in Canada, British Columbia and Fernie is beyond the scope of my knowledge and of this article. But regardless of what the law tells us that we must do, we all can and should make every extra effort to reduce waste and emissions. A great way to reduce your personal contribution to emissions is to make the commitment to bike to work or school. If you must drive, don’t let your vehicle idle.