Have your say in the Environmental Assessment Review

An important opportunity to raise your voice for stronger environmental protections is coming up in December. The federal government has mandated a review of Canada’s environmental laws and processes, including:

  • Fisheries Act by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guards
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act by the Minister of Transport
  • National Energy Board by the Minister of Natural Resources
  • Federal environmental assessments processes by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

The review of federal environmental assessment processes (the EA Review) will be taken on by an Expert Panel appointed by the associated Minister for the purpose of regaining the public’s trust. The Panel will engage Aboriginal groups, the public and other key stakeholders to formulate recommendations to modernize and improve EA processes.

Sierra Club BC will be participating in the EA Review and we hope many British Columbians will too. Please read on for the steps you can take to participate and where you can find more information.

What you need to know about EA reviews

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was already reviewed in 2012 and enacted as part of Bill C-38. The public and Indigenous groups were poorly informed of the envisioned reforms. This 2016 review is a second chance to adapt environmental assessments to current knowledge and global agreements, making them more encompassing and transparent.

This time around, the Panel will contact the public and Indigenous groups for their input into the EA review, giving everyone a chance to voice their opinion.

Their conclusions will be enclosed in a final report to Cabinet, which will consider the reports of all four reviews.  The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) will then suggest regulatory reforms to Cabinet, which will then decide whether to impose legislative reforms and draft new bills – likely announced by fall 2017.

Scope of the EA review

The scope of the Panel’s review is laid out in its Terms of Reference, and includes all matters relating to the rationale, practice and decision-making of EA processes. These matters include:

  1. How to restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while working with the provinces and territories to avoid duplication;
  2. How to ensure decisions are based on science, facts and evidence and serve the public’s interest;
  3. How to provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate;
  4. How to require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts;
  5. How to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects;

The Panel should also consider:

  • How environmental assessment processes are conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, including practices and procedures such as Indigenous engagement and consultation, public participation, the role of science and Indigenous knowledge, cumulative effects assessment and harmonization and coordination with other orders of government;
  • practices and approaches within Canada and internationally;
  • the relationship between environmental assessment and other elements of the regulatory framework; and
  • alignment of various jurisdictional processes.

The Panel’s recommendations should reflect the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, paying careful attention to potential impacts from EA processes to Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Sierra Club BC’s role in the EA review

While there are many strategic-level solutions to strengthening EAs, Sierra Club BC’s work has focused on improvements to the project-level assessment, specifically relating to the inclusion of climate change within EAs as well as recommendations for implementation and follow-up. Through our collaboration with the Environmental Law Centre from the University of Victoria, Sierra Club BC composed a series of considerations, among others:

  • EAs should be required to consider full life cycle GHG emissions directly and indirectly caused by the project (i.e. upstream and downstream emissions over the entire lifespan of the project),
  • Proponents should perform quantitative and/or qualitative analysis of how their projects fit with the national action towards decarbonization, and finally
  • EAs should require security for climate damages.

How you can participate

The Panel will gather input from stakeholders and First Nations until December 18th, 2016, and will submit their report by January 31st, 2017. The Panel will be visiting five cities in BC: Kamloops (November 28-29), Fort St. John (December 6-7), Prince Rupert (December 9-10), Vancouver (December 12-13) and Nanaimo (December 14-15).

In-person events consist of presentations and workshops. They will be separately hosted for the public and for Aboriginal groups. Presentations can contain information on EA process issues, suggestions on how to fix these issues, how the suggestions can be implemented in law or policy, and examples of these suggestions implemented in other jurisdictions or assessments in Canada. The Panel is also hosting public workshops and Indigenous open dialogues to allow communities to engage in discussions.

You can learn more about the process and register for in-person events here.

The Panel also provides an opportunity for online participation, by either submitting a written document by email at EAreview_participation@canada.ca or filling out a questionnaire.

The Panel offers funding for people commuting to meetings and offers webinars (interest in webinars can be expressed via the email above).

If you would like to prepare for the in-person events, West Coast Environmental Law is hosting a preparatory workshop discussion on Monday, December 5th at 2pm at the False Creek Community Centre, independent from the Expert Panel.

Where to find more information

More information about participation, the Expert Panel and the Canadian EA processes can be found on the Panel’s website, or by visiting West Coast Environmental Law’s Envirolawsmatter website.

The EA Review is a great opportunity to revert changes done to environmental assessments in 2012 and to modernize Canadian EA processes. Hopefully this information will help you join us in the discussion on how to improve assessments to protect Canada’s natural environment.

By Guest Contributor Katherine Zmuda

Feature image by Joe Riis