The Government of Canada launched four reviews of government environmental and regulatory processes in June 2016, and recently, the appointed Expert Panels have begun to deliver their reports. The Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was released on February 24 – to a welcoming review by West Coast Environmental Law: “We are pleased that the Committee has listened – to First Nations, to conservation and community groups, to scientists and concerned citizens across the country – and has recommended reinstating the Fisheries Act’s key prohibition on habitat alteration, disruption and disturbance .
The Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment was released on April 5, and is open for public comment – only until May 5 at www.letstalkea.ca/. The report, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada incorporates a fundamental idea in its title: what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment”. The Panel recommends that: an Impact Assessment Commission should be established as an independent, arm’s length government agency, “with a broad leadership mandate to conduct project, region-based and strategic-level assessments. …. The Commission would also be mandated to generate its own independent science so that assessments are evidence-based and agency-led… and the Panel should commit to ensuring that the projects are not developed without the early involvement of potentially affected Indigenous peoples and the public. ”
One of the first responses to the Expert Panel comes from Chris Toellofson at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , who states: “the Panel deserves kudos for both for its ambitious commitment to process, and the innovative and balanced way it has charted the law reform road ahead.” The article continues with a thorough summary and analysis of the report, including: “Our biggest concern with the Report is that it has mainly focused on procedures, values and governance – and has therefore not engaged with some of the substantive legal tests that must be embedded in a federal assessment law to give it real traction. For example, the Report does not address the need for assessments to include “worst case scenario” modeling, and only briefly touches on the need for “alternatives” assessment. These legal requirements, as our experience in the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and Pacific NorthWest LNG reviews underscore, can be of critical importance, both scientifically and legally.”
West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) also responded positively though briefly, calling the report “not perfect but a step in the right direction”, and calling on the government to translate the recommendations into law quickly. WCEL had convened a Federal Environmental Assessment Reform Summit meeting in Ottawa in May 2016, attended by approximately 30 of Canada’s leading environmental assessment experts, academics, lawyers and practitioners. The summary of those discussions was published in August 2016, and offers a context for any review of the recommendations of the government`s Expert Panel report.
Next up in May: the Report of the Expert Panel regarding the Modernization of the National Energy Board , scheduled to be delivered to the Minister of Natural Resources on or around May 15, 2017. Anticipating that release, Ecojustice published a blog, Modernizing the National Energy Board : Let’s get it right on April 4, which states : “Today, the NEB is riddled with systemic failures. Some of the most glaring problems include, no flexible timelines for reviews, lack of inclusive public participation, and limitations on public hearings such as no cross-examination and no meaningful consideration of climate change impacts…The NEB, as we’ve come to know it, is dominated by industry insiders and conventional industry perspectives. As a result, it fails to objectively evaluate the need for, and the consequences of, new oil and gas projects. As we transition to a decarbonized energy system in which we are less likely to build new oil and gas infrastructure, the NEB’s role — chiefly concerned with regulating oil and gas and in particular interprovincial and international pipelines — should diminish. In other words, the NEB should get out of the business of environmental assessment…. The NEB’s function should be limited to technical matters traditionally within its regulatory expertise (related to pipeline safety, for instance). It could also turn its attention to technical plans for decommissioning and remediating energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, that are redundant in a decarbonizing economy.”