The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) proposed by Harper will withdraw or limit the Federal government Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency from mandating or participating in a wide range of Environmental Assessments (EA).
Since the federal government will not require EAs on a broader range of projects, this creates a vacume of responsibility that effectively hands over more responsibility to the provinces for assuring that EAs are actually done.
While we should question the wisdom of a federal retreat on EAs, we must absolutely insist that if the government wants to retreat, then they must ensure that a higher minimum standard is in place to be enforced by other levels or branches of government.
There are many holes in the current set of provincial standards as is well evidenced by the current Terry Fox Road fiasco in Ottawa.
For example, current code of conduct for EAs:
- Do not require species impact assessment to be performed when species-at-risk are threatened by a proponent of a project.
- Do not identify hard minimium criteria for when mitigation alternatives must be considered by a proponent.
- Do not require that effectiveness assessment be performed for proposed mitigation measures when the are intended to protect endangered species.
- Do not require a proponent to specifically address the issues raised by public consultation – they only require that public consultation occurs.
- Do not provide a minimum standard of practice to be used when evaluating alternatives. For example, there is no requirement to prioritize criteria nor is there a required code of practice for evaluating alternatives.
- Do not identify hard criteria to guide the selection of scope for an EA. Existing guidance varies by province and uses woolly terms such as “project complexity” which is to be interpreted solely by the proponent.
- Do not require minimum criteria to ensure provincial oversight of the EA process. The Class EA process in Ontario, for example, is a proponent-driven process with little involvement from provincial authorities to ensure that it is properly completed.
- Do not identify hard criteria for determining when an EA Addendum is required due to changing project circumstances. As an example, the City of Ottawa took the position that it did not need to file an EA Addendum even though it’s project planned to divert the only tributary that drains a sub-watershed.
- Do not require proponents to publish and entertain feedback on planned environmental measures.
- Do not provide a basis for appeal after completion of the EA process when new information arises that contradicts the assumptions made during an EA. For example, a poorly executed study may fail to identify species-at-risk during the EA process. Subsequent discovery should be basis for appeal.
There are many, many other improvents that can be made to the EA process. If Harper wants to retreat, then he should strike a royal commission to assemble minimum standards to be left in his wake.
Please post your own suggestions for minimum EA standards.