Ottawa does not have the authority to suspend federal environmental assessments

Ottawa n’a pas le pouvoir de suspendre les évaluations environnementales fédérales

Photo: Adrian Wyld Archives The canadian Press

In recent weeks, The Duty has on several occasions requested the office of the canadian minister of the Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, if it would be possible to suspend the environmental assessments of industrial projects in progress, due to the health crisis, global caused by the COVID-19.

Even if it wished, the Trudeau government does not have the authority to suspend or terminate the environmental assessment, and in particular, the public consultation process, despite the crisis of the COVID-19. Only the promoters of the projects can claim such a measure, confirms the federal government.

In recent weeks, The Duty has on several occasions requested the office of the canadian minister of the Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, if it would be possible to suspend the environmental assessments of industrial projects in progress, due to the health crisis, global caused by the COVID-19.

It is finally the Agency of impact assessment in Canada (SAIC), which has responded by stating that ” the minister has no authority with respect to the suspension or the stopping of a measurement. This state of affairs prevailed under the former Act, the canadian environmental assessment act, adopted by the conservatives in 2012. But the situation remains the same, under the Act on the evaluation of the impact (LEI), adopted in 2019 under the liberals.

To see the video

Application developer

SAIC further clarified, by email, that it has the power to “suspend” some time, but only ” at the request of a sponsor “. This is what has been done for the evaluation of the mega project of expansion of the exploitation site of oil sands oil ” Base “, Suncor, located near Fort McMurray. The beginning of the construction of the project is expected in 2026, for a yearly operation of $ 80 million barrels per year, from 2030 to 2055.

On 2 march, the SAIC had issued the “description of project” expansion of the site of Suncor, a step which was followed by a first period of public consultation was to close on 23 march. The consultation was then extended until the 1st of may. And then, “following a written request” made by the oil, the Agency has decided to restart the process from 2 may.

This decision was taken by mutual agreement with Suncor in order to take account of extenuating circumstances arising from the pandemic of the COVID-19 and its impact on communities, businesses and stakeholders.” In practice, these steps have had the effect of extending the deadline for this first stage of the federal assessment, scheduled to last 180 days, 60 days.

The Trudeau government also had to wait for a “written request of the proponent” of the expansion project of the production facility and natural gas storage of LNG at Tilbury, located in the Vancouver area, before suspending for “30 days,” the environmental assessment process. The suspension was announced on 31 march, in the midst of a crisis of the COVID-19.

Running processes

However, if the sponsor does not submit a suspension application, the evaluation process follows its course. This is the case of the project operating coal mine on Grassy Mountain, Alberta. For this project, annual operating of $ 4.5 million tons of coal, the “public consultation” was launched on the 19 march will end on 4 may. The minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who could not intervene to suspend the evaluation process, however, has granted an additional 90 days “to the commission for the review of the project” to present his report.”

Same thing for the federal environmental assessment of the proposed port expansion at Beauport in the Port of Québec. In this case, the minister Wilkinson ” has extended by 90 days the deadline for publication of the decision statement for the project Laurentia proposed to take account of exceptional circumstances arising from the pandemic COVID-19 and its impact on communities, businesses and stakeholders, as well as significant changes to the project by the proponent “.

The environmental assessment process also continues for the project of 20 oil drilling in the marine environment of BHP Canada, off the coast of Newfoundland. The “public consultation” was launched on the 5th march will end on 4 may. “The Agency invites the public and aboriginal groups to provide comments on the summary of the study of environmental impact of the promoter, which includes the conclusions and recommendations of the Agency concerning the potential environmental effects of the project and their significance, proposed mitigation measures and the follow-up program’, can we read on the website of the SAIC.

Suspension claimed

To the executive director of the quebec Centre of environmental law, Genevieve, Paul, the crisis in current health would warrant to suspend the ongoing assessments. “If the consultation process does not provide a possibility to be significant for the population to be consulted, the process might, in our opinion, be regarded as stale. The decision by the Agency on a case-by-case basis and according to the requests of the promoters is not optimal “, she argues the Duty.

“We believe the federal government should consider the suspension of all time limits provided for in the Act on assessment of impacts, as well as all the regulatory processes, or ongoing evaluation that could have an impact on the environment, and for which the population is not currently able to participate significantly,” added Ms. Paul.

“This could be done by providing for such a provision in a bill like bill C-13 (relating to certain measures in response to the COVID-19) was done by providing for the amendment of various laws. “In the replies submitted by the federal government, this option is not mentioned.

Share Button

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *