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Let's Talk Environmental Assessment

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The Expert Panel tasked with reviewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment process has released its report and the federal government is now consulting on the recommendations and the future of the program.
 
As most of you probably remember, the Harper government significantly rolled back the federal environmental assessment process – making it apply only to large projects and limiting the scope of the assessments.
 
The expert panel was created to review the process and make recommendations to improve the process. 
 
The Panel proposes that Canada's current EA regime be replaced with an "impact assessment" (IA) process that would consider much more than the environment: economic, social, cultural and health impacts would also be assessed. A proposed project would be approved only if it contributes positively to the sustainability of Canada's development.

The consultation is being presented in parts – summarized below:
  • In Section 1, Outlining the Vision, the panel laid out its belief that the assessment processes "must move beyond the bio-physical environment to encompass all impacts likely to result from a project, both positive and negative. therefore, what is now "environmental assessment" should become ‘impact assessment’ (IA)."
  • In Section 2, Developing the Vision, the panel emphasizes the importance of cooperation among jurisdictions, integrating indigenous considerations into IA processes, enabling meaningful participation and ensuring evidence-based decision-making.
  • In Section 3, Implementing the Vision, the panel recommends, among other things, that:
    • a single authority have the mandate to conduct and decide upon IAs on behalf of the federal government;
    • the IA authority should be a quasi-judicial tribunal empowered to undertake a full range of facilitation and dispute-resolution processes; and that
    • the IA authority be required to develop an estimate of the cost and timeline for each phase of the assessment and report regularly on the success in meeting these estimates.
  • Regarding project impact assessments: the panel recommends legislative changes that will: define a "project" to be "a physical activity or undertaking that impacts one or more matters of federal interest." in addition, "based on a prepared project design, an assessment agreement would finalize the factors for assessment, set out the sustainability framework, identify studies that need to be conducted, address the constitutional duty to consult, outline how the process will integrate procedural and legislative requirements of other jurisdictions, and provide details on IA timing and cost."

Planning and study phases would culminate in a "Decision phase," "wherein the IA authority would seek indigenous consent and issue a public decision statement on whether the project contributes positively to the sustainability of Canada’s development."

While this would complete the "assessment" part of the IA process, compliance monitoring, follow-up and enforcement would comprise a "post-IA phase" designed to ensure robust oversight to verify the accuracy of the assessment predictions and the effectiveness of identified mitigation measures.

The panel also recommends that a new strategic IA model should be put in place to provide guidance on how to implement existing federal policies, plans and programs in a project or regional IA. in addition, the panel notes that "there is an urgent national need for clarity and consistency on how to consider climate change in project and regional IA."

Criteria, modelling and methodologies must therefore be established to:
  • assess a project’s contribution to climate change;
  • consider how climate change may impact the future environmental setting of a project; and
  • consider a project’s or region’s long-term sustainability and resiliency in a changing environmental setting.
The federal government has created an online engagement process to solicit feedback on the report recommendations. Visit  http://www.letstalkea.ca/.
 
Comments are due by May 5, 2017 

CWWA will be reviewing the engagement process and will work with our technical committees to complete it on behalf of the Association.

 

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