Action Alert: Canada’s Environmental Assessment Law Is Under Attack

Wed 25 Jan 2012

The Harper Government wants to gut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Tell the Conservatives that Canada’s environment matters – and environmental laws matter.

Tell Prime Minister Harper, Environment Minister Kent, and Natural Resources Minister Oliver we won’t accept shoddy “streamlined” public reviews and destructive megaprojects – even if they change the law to allow them to proceed.

Background

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in Canada. It often provides for more public participation and a more rigorous review than provincial assessment legislation, and in many cases covers projects not subject to provincial assessment at all. The Act has been in place since 1995.

CEAA was intended to promote sustainable development by forcing federal authorities to make sure that an environmental assessment was done on any projects they were required to authorise. It worked, but it did have a number of problems that environmental groups, aboriginal organisations, and government agencies have tried to resolve over the years. Many of the problems have been resolved. For example, harmonization agreements between federal and provincial governments allow them to undertake joint reviews that meet both their requirements, while reducing duplication and confusion for proponents and the public.

Other problems have never been resolved; for example, the Act is centred on assessing the environmental impacts of physical projects, so government policies, plans, and programs are not included – things like fisheries policies, regional development plans, or plans for disposing of high-level nuclear fuel waste. The review process also suffered resistance from some government departments, such as Fisheries and Oceans, that didn’t want to take responsibility for larger environmental issues. MiningWatch Canada had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure that assessments could not be artificially defined to limit their scope and avoid the Act’s public involvement requirements. And it suffered periodic setbacks, especially when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was amended in 2009 to exclude it from CEAA, and CEAA itself amended in 2010 to exclude projects funded under the government’s Economic Action Plan from environmental assessment.

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus of the Canadian Environment Network has continued working hard to engage the public and develop thoughtful, evidence-based proposals for a better federal EA process, and has produced a significant body of research and documentation.

CEAA Under Review

The Act includes a requirement for Parliament to review it by June 2010. However, the government did no public preparation for the review and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development only started working on it in October, 2011. The Committee held a scant five weeks of public hearings – nine sessions of less than two hours each, with witnesses allowed all of ten minutes to make their initial presentations, and only two days’ notice of the final deadline for written submissions. The Committee has not yet published its report.

This is a stark contrast with the previous review of the Act, which included extensive public consultations, government discussion papers, and thorough public discussions in the Standing Committee.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper, Peter Kent, and Joe Oliver have all made public pronouncements about the environmental assessment process allowing too much public input, taking too long, creating uncertainty for investors, and threatening economic development. It is clear from their statements as well as from industry talking points – and a leaked government document – that the government is eager to reduce the scope and effectiveness of the federal environmental assessment process if it can’t eliminate it altogether. Small projects would be no longer be screened, and the assessment of large projects will be “delegated” – no longer handled by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Some are already handled (badly) by the National Energy Board and the Nuclear Safety Commission, and this could be extended to other federal and even provincial agencies, resulting in an inconsistent patchwork of reviews, incomprehensible to the public – and ineffective in protecting the public interest – the environment and people’s livelihoods.

What You Can Do

Please write to Environment Minister Peter Kent to express your concerns about the federal government’s intention to weaken federal environmental assessment laws and undermine sustainable development in Canada. Send copies to Prime Minister Harper, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and the opposition parties’ environment critics, as well as your own Member of Parliament. Engage your MP in discussion on this issue as most of them know little about it and don’t realise its importance.

Most importantly, talk to your neighbours, friends, even strangers. People have put a lot of hard work into trying to create and environmental assessment process that protects the environment from inappropriate development projects and gives the public a say in development. We will not accept a review process that is “streamlined” to limit public participation and ensure that potentially destructive megaprojects proceed without serious consideration of their impacts – and without those safeguards in place we will not accept the projects themselves.

Click here to send the following letter to Environment Minister Peter Kent, or send your own.

  • If you can, personalize your message by adding information about your own specific concerns. This could relate to a particular type of development projects, a particular environmental assessment, or other sustainable development issues.
  • Make sure to send a copy to your own Member of Parliament.
  • Below the letter, you will find a list of the relevant addresses, phone/fax numbers, and e-mails.

Dear Minister Kent,

Don’t trash the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act! This law is critical to understanding and mitigating the adverse environmental effects of developments such as pipelines, tar sands projects, and mines. Eliminating legal requirements and limiting public participation in project reviews makes environmental disasters such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, and Fukushima more likely. I know that you don’t want catastrophes like these to happen in Canada.

That’s why I am urging you to work with Parliament to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to make it more effective, efficient, and open to public participation.

Canadians want all development projects to be sustainable, and a stronger environmental assessment law – not a weaker one – is key to achieving that goal.

Thank you for considering my views.

Sincerely,

[your name here]

cc:
The Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
The Hon. Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources
Megan Leslie, MP, NDP Environment Critic
Kirsty Duncan, MP, Liberal Environment Critic
Maria Mourani, MP, Bloc Québecois Environment Critic
Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party


To find your Member of Parliament, use the Parliamentary directory at http://www.parl.gc.ca/SenatorsMembers.aspx?Language=E.

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament at the following address:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
Tel. (613) 992-0253
Fax: (613) 992-0887
Peter.Kent@parl.gc.ca

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Tel. (613) 992-4211
Fax: (613) 941-6900
Stephen.Harper@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Joe Oliver
Minister of Natural Resources
Tel. (613) 992-6361
Fax: (613) 992-9791
Joe.Oliver@parl.gc.ca

Megan Leslie
Tel. (613) 995-7614
Fax: (613) 992-8569
Megan.Leslie@parl.gc.ca

Kirsty Duncan
Tel. (613) 995-4702
Fax: (613) 995-8359
Kirsty.Duncan@parl.gc.ca

Maria Mourani
Tel. (613) 992-0983
Fax: (613) 992-1932
Maria.Mourani@parl.gc.ca

Elizabeth May
Tel. (613) 996-1119
Fax: (613) 996-0850
Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca

RCEN E-Bulletin

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