What Is Known About the Federal Government's Newly Proposed Environmental Assessment Process

Canadian businesses would be well advised to exercise caution and stress test the economics of major project that could draw the scrutinizing attention of the federal government's newly proposed environmental assessment process.  Other than the fact that the Trans Mountain Expansion and Energy East Pipeline projects will, along with other major energy and resource extraction projects more generally, be directly impacted by the, federal government's newly proposed environmental assessment process, here's what else is known about the said federal policy: 
  • ensure robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while collaborating with provinces and territories to minimize and avoid duplication in environmental assessment processes;
  • ensure that any and all decisions are made with the public's interest in mind, and are grounded in concrete facts and scientific evidence;
  • implement an environmental assessment process that facilitates and encourages public participation, including from indigenous groups, as well as opportunities for experts to participate in a meaningful way;
  • to require project stakeholders to choose state-of-the-art technologies that will contribute to reducing adverse environmental impacts. 
Also known about the federal government's new environmental assessment process are the five guiding principles articulated by the federal government that will apply during discretionary decision-making. They are: 

  1. No project proponent will be asked to return to the starting line, so project reviews will continue within the current legislative framework and in accordance with applicable treaty provisions, under the auspices of the relevant responsible authorities and northern regulatory boards;
  2. Decisions will be based on science, traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and other relevant evidence;
  3. The views of the public and affected communities will be sought and considered;
  4. Indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted, and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests will be accommodated; and
  5.  Direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to projects currently under review will be assessed.

In addition to the above, interim guidelines are also pushing for extensions to legislative time limits for making decisions for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and Energy East Pipeline. This will undoubtedly prove to be an important concession considering the extra work required to complete greenhouse gas emissions assessments.  Where the new environmental assessment process also seeks to improve public participation, public participation could also mean protracted approvals of major projects.  How the federal and provincial government's environmental assessment processes will interlock and operate remains a grey area that could cause further delays in the approval of major projects. Are there any known benefits to the federal government's newly proposed environmental assessment process?

Indigenous people will benefit from funding to enable them to engage in consultations on major projects, a process which is expected to streamline the approval of major projects that become subject to an environmental assessment process. The more general public may also stand to benefit from the greater transparency that will result from improved public consultation processes.