The Ontario’s McGuinty government is proposing changes to the environmental assessment (EA) process that will make it easier to navigate and enable major infrastructure projects that are well planned environmentally to proceed more quickly, Environment Minister Laurel Broten has announced.
“A more effective and efficient environmental assessment process will serve everyone better; it will protect the environment while saving time and money in the planning of energy, transit and waste initiatives,” Broten said.
“Our proposals will mean a faster ‘yes’ or a faster ‘no’ for applicants while completely protecting the environment.”
According to the minister, the EA process promotes good environmental planning by determining the potential effects of infrastructure projects before they begin. The ministry is proposing a number of changes to both shorten the government decision-making process and ensure sound environmental planning and will work with EA practitioners, environmental and community groups, as well as the public to:
— Streamline the approvals process for transit projects;
— Develop a new waste regulation that standardizes the process based on type, size and impact of project;
— Integrate the EA process with planning processes under other provincial legislation to reduce duplication especially for energy, transit and waste initiatives;
— Ensure projects receive a level of review appropriate to their potential environmental impact;
— Improve education and guidance to eliminate confusion and false starts.
Observers from the waste management industry are awaiting further details but were initially disappointed with the announcement, which they hoped would tackle core problems, such as a private proponent being required to demonstrate the “need” for a project — something envisaged originally for large public sector undertakings.
“It’s as if the minister thinks the problem here is that we need to be educated about the process,” says one waste industry professional (who wished to remain anonymous), obviously feeling patronized.
The observer was also expressed concern about the idea of a regulation that will potentially discriminate between lists of different types of waste projects deemed to pose greater or lesser threats based on their “perceived environmental footprint.”
“The whole point of EA is to determine environmental impacts, not prejudge these things,” the waste industry person said.
In June 2004, the government created an advisory panel, comprised of experts from academia, industry, the legal profession and municipalities to provide recommendations on improving the EA process, with a focus on three sectors – energy, waste and transit/transportation. Their proposals, along with recommendations from other stakeholders, provided valuable guidance, the government press release stated.
Waste industry professionals will likely view the announced changes as a continuation of a lengthy discussion process than as bold reform that will solve the fundamental problems of EA in Ontario. (Further notes based on the minister’s announcement are listed below.)
For further information, contact Anne O’Hagan, Minister’s Office, 416-325-5809 or John Steele, Communications Branch, 416-314-6666.
Notes from the minister’s announcement
EA process improvement initiatives (subject to further consultation) include:
— Establish codes of practice to provide clarity, consistency on key steps of EA process;
— Provide EA training and education;
— Develop new EA website;
— Ensure appropriate level of EA is applied.
Faster decisions to protect the environment, includes:
— Integrate EA with other planning processes;
— Shorten government decision making process;
— Develop suggested proponent timelines;
— Facilitate the resolution of issues.
— Delegate minister’s Class EA decisions (The minister’s comments alluded to depoliticizing the process by allowing the director to make decisions.)
Sector specific enhancements:
— Streamline the EA process for transit projects;
— Amend Electricity Regulation 116 (refine screening process, review and revise triggers to exempt “green” projects);
— Develop new regulation for waste management projects. (It appears EAs will be scaled based on perceived “environmental footprint”).
— Consult on key elements of EA improvements;
— Continue dialogue on nature of improvements, rigor of changes required;