Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. What about the good?
Updated: May 7, 2018
There has been a lot of discussion about the federal governments proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and most of it has been negative. I wanted to provide my positive approach to the CEAA; what are the good points about it?
For those that are not familiar with the CEAA , it is the federal legislation that drives the environmental assessment process on certain energy projects under federal jurisdiction. This includes projects that are in national parks, on First Nations lands and projects that cross two provinces. The legislation provides an environmental assessment process for large energy projects (i.e. the Trans Mountain Pipeline) that fall under the Crown’s jurisdiction. The legislation has gone through a few changes over it’s time, but the purpose of the Act has basically stayed the same.
The new process and requirements being proposed are quite a change from the existing Act. Let’s have a look at the positive points of what the new “Impact Assessment Act” (yep, name change) is going to provide that the previous ones did not.
First of all, the existing CEAA does not look at anything beyond environmental impacts. It is purely about how a project will impact air, water and land; nothing about how the project may impact the social and economic aspects of an area. This is a needed addition and is being proposed by the new Impact Assessment Act (and likely would have helped with the Trans Mountain Pipeline). In a world with growing population and expanding economics (more world events impact our economy than ever before), we needed to start looking outside of the environmental box.
Another good addition to the Act is involvement from First Nations. I find that the fact First Nations were not involved early in the process before, a bit of a hypocrisy? This is a process intended to help ensure a thorough process on federal lands; of which most is First Nations. To ensure the First Nations culture and economic viability is maintained, they need to be a part of the conversation early on. I believe it’s a good idea to include your key audience throughout the process.
A third positive addition is the requirement to provide a “plain language summary” for public consultation. An environmental impact assessment (EIA) can be literally thousands of pages long (I’ve been involved in projects with up to 10, 4 inch binders). For the average working individual to go through all that information is not realistic. People have lives, and even if a developer sees nothing but good coming out of their potential project, the developer needs to be able to articulate that to the general public. It is important for the people in the community to understand its impacts. I don’t believe it is fair to expect everyone to make the time to read thousands of pages. That is too much of a burden to add to the plate of hard working Canadians. This new “summary” requirement, I believe, is a good thing.
Lastly, the addition of Cumulative Effects. Now before those in industry get your hair-in-a-knot, stop yourself. This is already a requirement (and has been for a long time) for projects in Alberta’s Oil Sands and there is tested methodology in determining these effects. It’s an additional piece of work, that frankly, in a world where resource rich nations are under the microscope, is needed to alleviate the “bigger picture effects” that people ask. Project developers should not be looking at their project “as if they are on Mars” and definitely not for large projects. The Alberta Oil Sands is an excellent example of where cumulative effects assessments are helping Canadians understand the impact of the activities. Extensive partnerships between oil producers, First Nations and the federal government in cumulative effects monitoring exist, so adding it to our federal process shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
As a resource rich nation, I am proud that we have thorough, environmental regulations. As a person who made a career as an environmental consultant in the resource industry, I was often surprised at the lack of environmental and social standards of other nations. I have worked in many countries around the world that have no environmental standards. Canada is one of the few nations with a federal environmental assessment process in place. It’s reassuring to know that our Canadian standards are one of the highest in the world, even without the proposed changes to the legislation.
So, I hope this blog has provided you with a bit of insight into the good parts of the Impact Assessment Act that is being proposed and why it’s great to be Canadian!