Over the years, you've heard us say time and again that environmental assessment (EA) law in Canada is broken and needs some
Canada's environmental assessment (EA) processes are broken and in need of re-envisioning. There must be a shift from simply mitigating a project's adverse impacts to a process that focuses on long-term sustainable policies, plans and projects that promote the strongest possible contributions to lasting well-being.
Ecojustice has worked with federal environmental assessment (EA) law in its various forms for more than 20 years. These experiences have given us many clear examples of how Canada's EA process is broken and in need of major changes.
"Environmental assessments are supposed to allow the public and regulators to better understand and avoid potential risks. Removing the requirement for an environmental review is not in the public interest," said lawyer Jessica Clogg.
There is a fundamental flaw in the current environmental assessment process: It focuses on each proposed development as something that stands alone. But an individual well or dam is not separate or isolated from its surroundings -- air, water, plants and animals pay no attention to our imposed, artificial boundaries. We can't anticipate long-term consequences of any major technology if we are ignorant of how the world works, yet the consequences persevere.
There's a shadow over the Oshawa Harbour as well, a darkness and a rot. Oshawa is the only city on the Great Lakes with no boat access to the water. Think about that: 150,000 people living within spitting distance of one of the largest lakes on the planet, and they have to get in their cars and drive somewhere else if they want to fish, sail, or paddle.
Officially, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) has abolished most federal environmental assessment screenings, but the practical effect is less than it appears. The new process looks a lot like the old screening EA, but with less clear rules about procedure, content, timing, public consultation and opportunities for appeal.
The new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), which came into effect last month, allows the federal government to create mandatory timelines for assessments of even the largest and most important projects, regardless of public opposition. Last Friday the CEAA announced timelines for nine projects under review, giving us our first look at how much time the government will allow for federal environmental assessments. It doesn't look very good.
Nearly half of Bill C-38 is directed at rewriting Canada's foundational environmental laws. Putting all this in a fast-track budget bill, with time allocation on debate, and heading to the Finance Committee, is a direct assault on the principles of parliamentary democracy.
This week the House Committee for the Environment issued a pre-ordained set of recommendations to further destroy environmental review. After 35 years of working on environmental assessment, I am watching the current government weaken the process to less than we had in 1977.