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New federal Impact Assessment Act gets a C grade, environmental organizations say 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Legislation loses points for regulations that exempt high-carbon projects from review

OTTAWA - A report card released by seven environmental organizations gives Canada’s new Impact Assessment Act a C grade, as the federal legislation comes into force today. The groups say the Act would have received a B if it weren’t for regulations that reduce the number of projects subject to assessments, giving high-carbon and other major industrial projects a free pass. 

The report card grades the new legislation against 13 essential criteria required for leading-edge environmental assessment – including an objective to ensure long-term sustainability, a climate test, meaningful public participation, and respect for the rights and authority of Indigenous peoples.  

“The gutting of Canadian environmental laws in 2012 led to so much outcry that the government promised to restore the credibility of environmental assessments. But with weak regulations that actually reduce even further the number of projects being reviewed – and a huge amount of discretion in the legislation – the Act fails to deliver on that promise,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law Association. “Although the law lays the foundation for leading-edge environmental assessments, many of the strongest provisions are essentially optional.”

For example, experts note that while the Act requires an assessment of a proposed project’s climate impacts, the legislation does not prevent projects from being approved if they are inconsistent with Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. 

“In order to truly make the grade, the federal government must make all major greenhouse gas emitters go through an impact assessment and ensure that all approved projects are consistent with a climate-safe future,” said Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager with Environmental Defence.

“Canadians want meaningful action on climate change, wildlife protection, and better long-term planning for projects that impact land, water, and public health. This new assessment law provides an opportunity for the next federal government to turn ambition into reality and make sure that the Act is implemented in a way that advances these goals,” said Aerin Jacob, Conservation Scientist at Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

In March 2018, the environmental organizations graded the proposed Impact Assessment Act using similar criteria, and it received a C-. Amendments made in the House of Commons earlier this year helped to improve the legislation’s score, including by limiting the involvement of the widely-criticized National Energy Board and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 

To view the complete report card, click here.

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For more information, please contact:

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304, ajohnston@wcel.org

Barbara Hayes | Communications Manager, Environmental Defence
613-255-5724, bhayes@environmentaldefence.ca 

Dr. Aerin Jacob | Conservation Scientist, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
403-609-2666 ext. 124, aerin@y2y.net  

Geneviève Paul | Directrice générale, Centre québécois du droit de l'environnement
514-618-7094, genevieve.paul@cqde.org 
[Disponible pour entrevue en français]