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Government Proposes Wide-Ranging Reform of Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

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On June 29, 2018, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced government plans to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).

According to the announcement, the Government of Canada is proposing to implement many of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development's recommendations which were released last year. Proposed initatives include:

  • developing a policy framework for considering vulnerable populations - such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly - in the assessment and management of chemicals;
  • taking action to protect Canadians from chemicals of high concern, such as endocrine disruptors; and
  • updating standards and developing new instruments to improve air quality and reduce air pollution from industrial sources, including oil refineries.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development first tabled its report on CEPA 1999 in June of last year. The report contains 87 recommendations to improve the Act and its implementation.

The government’s response document - (Follow-Up Report to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999) - extends over 84 pages.

The responses are wide-ranging - from changing the Act’s preamble to recognize a right to a healthy environment, to recognizing the principles put forward in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to proposing to amend CEPA 1999 to expand information gathering powers to target manufacturers, importers or distributors of products.

Most of the more significant reforms appear slated to form part of another two years of extended stakeholder discussions designed to usher in an updated, post-2020, Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). This patient approach is illustrated in the government’s acceptance of the Committee’s first recommendation - namely that CEPA 1999 be amended to require a parliamentary review every 10 years rather than every 5 years.

Significant reforms include:

  • Expanding the definition of ‘toxicity’ to encompass endocrine disruptors and low-level thresholds – while the government feels the current definition of toxicity is adequate to capture endocrine disrupting effects, the report does commit to addressing these issues more thoroughly in assessment reports, highlighting when these impacts were considered and how it impacted the outcome of the assessment. The government is recommending changes that will address chemicals that are dangerous at low or micro levels.
  • Expanding the definition of ‘toxicity’ to encompass ‘vulnerable populations’
  • Expanding the scope of ‘toxicity’ to encompass cumulative effects – this will include new requirements to consider aggregate and syndergistic impacts of exposure.
  • Reforming the virtual elimination regime and introducing a ‘reverse burden’ approach to manage substances of very high concern
  • Increasing transparency with regard to confidentiality of business information• Improving the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) – suggested changes to the NPRI include spills reporting requirements, reports on facility operational performance on pollution prevention and reduction.