Changes to Federal Environmental Assessment Act Under Review

On February 19th, Joan Kuyek presented MiningWatch Canada's brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The Committee is reviewing Bill C-19 - An Act to Amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

The MiningWatch submission provides examples of problems that could have been avoided if good environmental assessment practices had been used: the Aquarius Mine near Timmins, Ontario, was finally reviewed under CEAA through a Comprehensive Study in 2000 after much delayed and misfiled information; Niocan has proposed an underground niobium mine near Oka Québec which is escaping federal assessment altogether; the Lac Des Iles Mine expansion by North American Palladium, is also escaping assessment.

Meanwhile, in Tanzania, Ghana and the Philippines, the Canadian government has been actively promoting the development of large scale gold mining owned by Canadian companies, and the forcible eviction of thousands of artisanal miners who have been working the claims. In northern Canada, problems at the Diavik & Ekati diamond mines show that even "modern" projects that have gone through a full environmental assessment can not be counted on to protect the environment and investors' returns at the same time.

MiningWatch's brief emphasised seven key points:

  1. Public involvement must not be discretionary in comprehensive studies
  2. The new Electronic Registry is weaker than the existing system. It could be added to a paper-based system, but not replace it.
  3. The Minister must be able to change Environmental Assessment Tracks if public concern or new information warrants it. The current proposal would prevent a project that is undergoing comprehensive study from being referred to a panel review.
  4. The new regulations should make it impossible for deals to be worked out with proponents to avoid triggering CEAA. Currently, some federal agencies (notably Fisheries) use procedures that enable projects to avoid being subject to assessment.
  5. Programs and policies should be able to trigger Environmental Assessments. So-called "strategic EA" of federal policies and programs is currently done in secret, within Cabinet, if it is done at all.
  6. There is an unrealistic reliance on mitigation measures, that frequently do not work, or are not carried out. Monitoring and enforcement are both essential to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented and functioning as required.
  7. Export Development Canada, like other Crown corporations, should come under CEAA. The Environmental Review Framework developed by EDC will not be effective in protecting the environment, and it leaves EDC to police itself.

While industry groups have been complaining that the environmental assessment process is too unpredictable and adds unnecessary costs, they have been largely silent during the parliamentary review.

More background information is available from the Canadian Environmental Network's Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus.