Canada's Environmental Assessment Act was amended with the royal assent on June 11 to Bill C-9. The changes are welcome, says the Mining Association of Canada (MAC). It says the new law will bring about important improvements to the federal environmental process in Canada. The year the bill spent in Parliament provided time to make positive changes.
"This legislation was a long time coming, but worth the wait," said MAC VP of environment Justina Laurie-Lean, in a press release. She is also a member of the regulatory advisory committee to the federal Minister of the Environment.
"The amendments to the act should improve the timeliness and efficiency of the federal environmental assessment process in Canada, as well as reduce uncertainty and litigation," said Jim Carter, chairman of MAC and Syncrude president and COO. "They will also improve the transparency of the process and increase the accountability of decision makers. Project proponents and the public will benefit."
"The renewed act is an important step in the evolution of federal environmental assessment in Canada," according to the Hon. David Anderson, Minister of the Environment. "These progressive changes will allow us to make better informed and timely federal decisions, promote sustainable development and avoid significant adverse environmental effects both within and outside Canada's borders. The renewed act will provide all participants in environmental assessments with a more certain and predictable process," he said.
So far the changes look like a win-win-win change for the better. Or are MAC and the minister just having a love-in? Let's look at what's new.
*A federal co-ordinator will be appointed to help departments and agencies work together and with other jurisdictions.
*Following a comprehensive study assessment, projects will no longer be subject to a review panel.
*Crown corporations will have to conduct environmental assessments of their proposals, beginning in 2006.
*A publicly accessible Internet site will be created to provide improved and up-to-date information about federal environmental assessments.
*There will be more follow-up of assessments to ensure that sound mitigation measures are in place.
*Projects with adverse environmental effects will receive more attention, and the need to assess many smaller proposals will be reduced.
*To encourage public participation in the assessment process, funding will be extended to participants in comprehensive study assessments as well as review panels.
*Aboriginal perspectives, including the formal recognition of traditional knowledge, will be incorporated in environmental assessments.
The federal government has agreed to spend $51 million over five years to implement the changes, which are expected to come into force in the fall of 2003.
Indeed, the changes do look like they will ease some of the burden for mineral developers, in particular, removing the possibility (and uncertainty) of sending a project to a review panel after environmental assessment is welcome. The decision to exempt some small (how small?) projects from assessment is a boon to junior companies.
This said, we at CMJ invite our readers to share with us their feelings about the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act. Background information on the Amendments is available at www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca, the web site of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Scroll down the press release and click on "background material".