Following the changes made this spring to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Environmental Assessment Agency has proposed adding tight timelines to the comprehensive study process. The changes were included in a draft regulation that was posted for public comment in the Canada Gazette.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper reviewed the proposed regulation and identified five specific concerns and recommendations:
1. The proposed timeline is arbitrary. No evidence has been provided that supports the selection of either an initial 90 day timeline or a 365 day limit for the conduct of a comprehensive study report. Without supporting evidence to show that comprehensive studies never require more than 365 days to complete (excluding the time for the proponent to supply missing information), there are no grounds to support the imposition of this time limit.
2. The proposed timeline does not reflect the nature of environmental assessment. The proposed approach is a one-size-fits-all scheme that erroneously assumes that comprehensive studies can be treated uniformly. Given the wide range of projects reviewed through the comprehensive study process, it is not realistic to impose a single time limit on all projects. LOW is concerned that such an approach could undermine the purpose of the CEAA and erode the effectiveness of environmental assessments in Canada.
3. The proposed regulation does not include a provision for studies that take longer to complete. When Bill C-9 was passed, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was given responsibility for overseeing most environmental assessments. There is no evidence that shifting this responsibility from a variety of specialized departments to one agency will result in greater time efficiencies. In fact, the concentration of responsibility with the CEAA may result in less efficient processing as one agency now has to conduct most of the EAs. While it is clear that the objective of the proposed regulation is to impose a time limit, it is not clear what would happen if the Agency is unable to complete a comprehensive study within the allotted timeframe. In order to avoid undermining the objectives of the CEA Act, the regulation must allow for the completion of high quality reviews, even in cases where the time limits cannot be met. If this is not included in the regulation, the quality of the EA process may be compromised.
4. The proposed regulation could undermine public consultation and participation in environmentally significant decision-making. While the description of the proposed changes in the Gazette state that the regulation would not impact public consultation, that is only true of the consultation that occurs following the completion of the comprehensive study report. The proposed timelines would restrict the amount of time available for the public to provide comments to the Agency before the study report is completed. The Minister’s decision will be based largely on the report prepared by the Agency. If that report does not include or reflect information and concerns gathered from affected or knowledgeable communities, it will be incomplete and the public’s opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the EA will be diminished.
5. Procedural changes of such significance should be considered as part of the upcoming five-year review. This year, 2010, triggers the five-year comprehensive review that the CEAA requires from the Minister. The potential implications of the proposed timelines are significant. They should be considered in the context of the five-year review in order to ensure that any timelines imposed are based on evidence, preserve the public’s right to participate, avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, and allow for contingencies where a time limit cannot be met.
Read Waterkeeper's original submission here.