CARC is a leading advocate for a full, Federal environmental assessment process. For over 40 years CARC has lead the way toward forcing governments to implement processes that highlight the environmental effects from development. CARC strongly believes in using up to date, real data that is useful, scientific and comprehensive. While governments, past and present have usually done these assessments at different stages of development we strongly believe assessment must happen before money is spent.
The federal government, via Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, is reviewing the federal environmental assessment process associated with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). Their goal is to develop new, fair processes that are robust, incorporate scientific evidence, protect our environment, respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, and support economic growth.
In June 2016, the Government of Canada began a review of environmental and regulatory processes. In August 2016, as part of that process, a four-person Expert Panel was established and spent months engaging the public, Indigenous groups, and stakeholders, both in person and online. The Panel went to 21 cities, received over 500 online submissions, and welcomed over 1,000 participants at engagement sessions.
In April 2017, the Expert Panel delivered its report, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada to the Minister. Canadians were invited to read the report and share their views online.
The federal government is now in the process of reviewing the report and all of the input received as it considers a path forward including any potential legislative, regulatory or policy changes required. A discussion document, created as a summary of the report has been drafted and a broad range of stakeholders and Indigenous groups are still being asked for comments this summer.
A Multi-Interest Advisory Committee made up of Indigenous organizations, industry associations and environmental groups has also been established to provide advice to the Expert Panel, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) on matters related to environmental assessment; specifically, to inform potential regulatory, legislative, policy and guidance changes and implementation. This Committee is continuing to meet to discuss the Panel’s report and potential paths forward.
The federal government has said that they want to bring forward a comprehensive suite of changes in the fall of 2017.
The following is a submission made by CARC to the Canadian Government as they review the federal environmental assessment process:
The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee is Canada’s oldest citizen’s organization dedicated to environmental sustainability in the Arctic. We have a long history in commenting on environmental assessments in the Canadian North and we offer the following comments on the Discussion Paper. In general, the document has some good principles and steps forward. We are concerned, however, that it contains some “streamlining” steps that may compromise environmental protection.
We fully support the development of “regional” environmental assessments: those that consider the cumulative effects of all developments in a given region. The consideration of cumulative impacts has been a primary consideration of CARC since our formation. Having baseline “big-picture” data in a given area before doing project-oriented assessments in that area is a very good idea. Moreover, we believe that the federal government should ensure that these are carried out throughout Canada, including the north, and that your revision of the federal process should reflect this. The Canadian Government, if not leading a regional assessment, should always be there in support of the many cross boundary wildlife species such as marine mammals, fish, migratory birds and caribou. And the truth may be that you are the only jurisdiction with the funds available to carry out regional assessments in the north.
From this document, it is not clear what the tangible elements are that will serve to implement true consideration of cumulative impacts. The target is certainly desirable, but we worry that the suggested approaches will not necessarily lead to true consideration of cumulative impacts.
We recommend that consideration be given toward using one or more individual land claims in the Canadian north as pilot projects for implementing integrated regional assessments of cumulative impacts. This would have to be done in full partnership with the respective first nation(s) and these areas do have coherence in regional ecology and governance structure. This would be a good way to begin partnering with Indigenous peoples, a desire clearly outlined in the document.
We fully support the Federal Government’s wish to work with other jurisdictions on environmental assessments. More comprehensive cooperation and coordination with the provinces and territories, with formal mechanisms included to achieve this, is a good idea and something the process should strive for. That being said, there needs to be assurance that this does not lead to an undue downloading of tasks onto the provinces and territories.
In principle, we agree that environmental assessments of proposed development projects should take into consideration the economic wellbeing and importantly the social and health effects of the local public.
That being said, we do not believe that economic benefits of a proposed project should be used to justify environmental impacts. We are concerned that consideration for the economic wellbeing of the public in the process could be phrased and interpreted to mean that if a project has substantive economic benefits that these benefits could be used in a net-sum-gain approach to justify environmental impacts. This is something that CARC cannot support.
A development should not be able to proceed if it continues to push wildlife species towards extinction, particularly if the species, like caribou, provides northern peoples with some level of food security. The assessment of any proposed project must consider and protect the critical habitat of these species.
We support the principles laid out on page 11 of the Discussion Paper. CARC has always fully supported the opportunity to participate in the environmental assessment of proposed projects. Moreover, we agree that providing nongovernmental organizations, and other interested parties, with the opportunity to intervene earlier in proposed developments assessment process than has traditionally happened is a good idea.
It is important for organizations like ours to be able to provide input into a process before a proponent has already invested significant time and capital on a proposed project. It is our perception that such projects are often seen as a “done deal” once this substantial investment has been made. The sooner that there is a formal avenue for the public to comment on a project, the better.
That being said, most non-government environmental organizations are understaffed and underfunded and without the environmental assessment process including a useful amount of intervenor/participant funding, it will still be difficult for organizations like CARC to provide any degree of meaningful input. Without this help, and perhaps for other reasons, it may be a challenge to get people involved in the early stages of a proposed development. Furthermore, a new assessment process must ensure that the early engagement of interested parties in a proposed project does not prevent continued and later involvement in the process, or preclude the involvement of ‘latecomers’ in the process.
We believe that it is important to collect and incorporate the best available science and evidence into an assessment of a proposed project and we agree that the burden of proof for demonstrating no environmental impacts is on the proponent.
We also agree that incorporating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into the assessment of proposed projects is important. However, there needs to be strides taken to make this is an active, rather than passive, process. We believe that the assessment processes can build on commonalities and integrate western science and TEK in a mutually beneficial way.
While we agree that a single agency approach could be useful, we need to hear more about the pros and cons of this approach before supporting the concept.
CARC believes that all the Interim Principles, as listed on page 4 of the document, are all very significant and we are pleased to see a potential commitment to them. For many years we have argued for: decisions to be based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant evidence; the views of the public and affected communities to be sought and considered and; Indigenous peoples to be meaningfully consulted and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests be accommodated. We are particularly happy with your commitment to consider upstream greenhouse gas emissions. This is a huge leap forward and speaks to CARC’s longstanding advocacy for considering cumulative environmental impacts. It will present significant logistical challenges with respect to carbon accounting, but that should not deter the government from committing to this.
We support all the Guiding Principles, listed on page 7, with the possible exception of #5. We are unsure of the repercussions of this final principle.