Who’s the watchdog?

By ,

Two Ottawa University experts in environmental law are wary of the federal government’s two-year waiver on federal environmental assessments of infrastructure projects funded by the Building Canada Plan.

The Exclusion List Regulations, 2007 , made under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, have recently been amended to exempt certain projects from undergoing a federal environmental impact assessment.

Projects funded under the Building Canada Plan and to be carried out in places other than a national park, park reserve, national historic site or historic canal are now exempted from the requirement to conduct an assessment under the CEAA.

According to the authors of the Globe and Mail piece:

The government seems to be forgetting its promise to pursue economic development that is environmentally responsible. That promise is in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which aims to prevent environmental harm by assessing risks in advance, and to ensure public participation in environmental decisions.

The authors further argue that changes to the process should be considered instead during the CEAA’s coming five-year review. They view the exemptions as dangereous:

More worrying is that this waiver is a sign of the government’s desire to severely gut the act during review.

Fair enough, but there is merit to streamlining the environmental assessment process, which by all accounts is a bit of a multi-jurisdictional mess. It’s also worth noting that the provinces have their own processes in place. On that front, Ottawa has recently enacted the new Infrastructure Projects Environmental Assessment Adaptation Regulations, which allows the substitution of a provincial environmental assessment in place of a federal one, provided certain prescribed requirements are met.