Proposed Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) Amendments in the COVID 19- Economic Recovery Act

ERO number
019-2051
Notice type
Bulletin
Act
Environmental Assessment Act, R.S.O. 1990
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Bulletin posted
Last updated

This notice is for informational purposes only. There is no requirement to consult on this initiative on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. Learn more about the types of notices on the registry.

Bulletin summary

Through the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is proposing amendments to the EAA. The amendments, if passed, will build on the vision for a modern environmental assessment program as proposed in the April 2019 discussion paper titled ‘Modernizing Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Program'.

Why consultation isn't required

We are posting this information notice for public awareness on proposed legislative changes through the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act to the Environmental Assessment Act and related consequential amendments. These amendments will enable next steps in modernizing Ontario’s environmental assessment program, helping to ensure strong environmental oversight while getting critical infrastructure projects off the ground quicker.

To ensure that these proposed changes can be implemented expeditiously to support recovery efforts, the proposed amendments include a provision making them not subject to the minimum 30-day posting requirement under the Environmental Bill of Rights.

If passed, the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act will improve the environmental assessment process by reducing the average time in half from 6 to 3 years for the largest infrastructure projects. Changes would also match the potential environmental impact of a project to the level of study required while still maintaining strong environmental oversight.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks intends to consult with the public, Indigenous communities and stakeholders on regulations to implement these proposed changes to the Environmental Assessment Act, if approved.

Bulletin details

The Ontario government is taking the first step in a made-in-Ontario plan for growth, renewal and economic recovery. The province introduced the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, proposed legislation that lays the foundation to restart jobs and development, strengthen communities, and create opportunity for people in every region of the province. This Bill would, if passed, amend the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) to update the almost 50-year-old environmental assessment program to make it a modern, practical process that supports strong environmental oversight and a strong economy.

Currently, the process for comprehensive environmental assessments is slow and ineffective. It can take up to six years for many projects, slowing down important infrastructure projects that help Ontario communities run, such as installing high voltage transmission lines, and building municipal expressways, new large waterpower facilities, or large expansions of existing landfills.

If the Bill is passed, we will be able to focus more resources on projects that have the highest impact to the environment, shorten timelines by half, and align the level of assessment requirements with the level of environmental impact so key infrastructure projects can get off the ground without delay.

Modernizing Ontario’s environmental assessment program

An environmental assessment (EA) is an environmental planning and decision-making process that helps to ensure potential environmental impacts are considered before a proposed undertaking (project) begins. Most of these projects are proposed by provincial ministries or municipalities planning infrastructure projects, though some private sector development projects are also subject to EA requirements.

Ontario’s EAA was enacted in 1975 and sets out the framework for province’s EA program. After almost 50 years, the EAA remains largely the same despite legislative amendments in 1996 and ongoing efforts over the years to update the EA program.

In November 2018, the government released the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan. In the plan, the government committed to modernize Ontario’s EA program to ensure strong environmental protections, while eliminating duplication, streamlining processes, providing clarity to applicants, improving service standards to reduce delays, and better recognize other planning processes. We also talked about providing municipalities and the communities they represent with a say in landfill siting approvals.

On April 25, 2019, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (ministry) released a discussion paper to consult Ontarians on a modern vision for the EA program and posted a proposal as part of Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 to move forward with short-term actions to address certain stakeholder concerns with the existing EA process.

On June 6, 2019, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 was passed resulting in amendments to the EAA that implemented immediate short-term actions to exempt low-impact projects from EA requirements.

Informed by feedback received during the comment period for the discussion paper, changes proposed through the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, would, if passed, amend the EAA to enable changes to modernize Ontario’s EA program. The amendments are intended to be phased in over time to allow for the modernization of the EA program through new regulations which will be developed in consultation with the public, stakeholders and Indigenous communities in the coming months, while maintaining environmental oversight now and in the future.

Proposed Amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) through the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act

The proposed legislative amendments to the EAA will enable the development of regulations to support modernization of the EA program. The ministry will consult broadly with the public, Indigenous communities and stakeholders, including through future postings on this Registry, on these subsequent regulations which will be needed to implement a fully modern EA program.

The amendments to the EAA that have been introduced include provisions to:

  1. Enable establishing a Project List to identify projects subject to EA requirements.
     

    Amend the EAA to allow the development of a Project List through future regulation that would clearly identify the projects that are subject to EA. This would bring Ontario’s EA framework into alignment with other Canadian jurisdictions. The Project List regulation would clearly identify projects subject to EA requirements with a focus on projects that have the most potential to impact the environment.

  2. Focus the formal objections process (Part II Order request process) to issues relating to Aboriginal and treaty rights and set timelines for when the Minister can intervene on his/her own initiative to impose conditions on or bump-up a streamlined project.
     

    Amend the EAA to focus the Part II Order request process on potential adverse impacts of a project on existing aboriginal and treaty rights to help reduce uncertainty and undue delays to critical infrastructure and development projects.

    The authority for the Minister to impose conditions or require an individual (comprehensive) EA (‘bump-up’) on a streamlined project will remain but the time period to impose these conditions or bump-up the project is proposed to be limited.

    The proposed amendments would also provide authority for the Minister to amend previous orders that imposed conditions on streamlined projects.

  3. Enable new streamlined regulations with consistent and standardized processes to replace Class EAs.
     

    Amend the EAA to enable new streamlined environmental assessment regulations that set out consistent requirements (consultation, documentation, scope of assessment, etc.) across project types to replace the differing and inconsistent Class EA system. The existing Class EAs would remain in place until the new regulations are made.

  4. Amend the EAA to clarify the authority to create standardized workplans through regulation for selected sectors.
     

    Amend the EAA to clarify the authority for standardized workplan regulations for certain sectors to save time and ensure consistency among workplans for proponents in a sector. Standardized workplans are expected to save eligible proponents up to 1.5 years in the overall EA process, as they will be able to use the sectoral Terms of Reference (ToR) as the basis for their assessment allowing proponents to streamline workplans that do not vary significantly from project-to-project within a sector.

    As part of the ToR approval process, the Minister will still have authority to impose requirements that are greater than or less than the requirements of the regulations, to ensure any project-specific factors can be considered.

  5. Improve timelines to ensure projects are completed in a reasonable timeframe.
     

    Amend the EAA to:

    • Enable setting timelines for proponents completing an EA and for extension of these timelines. The EA process would need to be restarted by proponents who do not meet the established timeline. This would improve clarity and certainty of timelines for proponents and the ministry.
    • Require the minister to provide reasons if decision timelines are not met. This would ensure accountability for meeting timelines and facilitate investment in critical infrastructure and development projects.

  6. Provide expiry dates for all individual (comprehensive) EAs that do not currently have an expiry date and that are not listed by regulation.
     

    Amend the EAA to:

    • Provide expiry dates for all individual (comprehensive) EAs that do not have an expiry date and that are not listed by regulation. This would ensure that environmental studies are relevant at the time of implementation of a project, and that old EA approvals or new ones that do not include an expiry date do not remain valid indefinitely. In addition, the Minister would be able to amend an approval for projects listed in the exemption regulation to include a date on which the approval for the project will expire. If the amendments to the Act are passed, the ministry intends to consult on a list of projects to be exempted from the expiry date provisions before the provision establishing the expiry date is proclaimed into force.

  7. Reduce duplication by amending the harmonization provision of the EAA to align with the federal Impact Assessment Act.
     

    Strengthen and clarify existing provisions of the EAA that provide for harmonization and substitution where both Ontario and other jurisdictions EA requirements apply, including federal ones to reduce duplication by having one process but still maintain having two decisions.

  8. Transition the EA program to an online digital platform.
     

    Amend the EAA to enable requiring online submissions of EA applications, once a platform is developed and to enable requiring proponents to establish and maintain project websites. This would modernize Ontario’s EA program to enhance transparency, reporting and evidence-based decision making as well as to align Ontario’s EA program with all other provinces and the federal government.

  9. Establish the requirement for municipal support for landfills as part of the EA process.
     

    Amend the EAA to require proponents of new, large landfills (those that require an individual (comprehensive) EA) to obtain support from 1) host municipalities and 2) adjacent municipalities where there is land with authorized residential uses that is within a set distance from the proposed new landfill site property boundary (that is within a 3.5 km distance or such distance as may otherwise be prescribed). This requirement would apply to single tier and lower tier municipalities.

    The proposed amendments would apply to landfill proposals that are currently in the process of obtaining an approval. Existing regulation-making authority could be employed when needed to provide exemptions from the requirement for proponents to obtain municipal support (e.g., may want to override where there is severe landfill constraint, public health concerns etc.).

  10. Establish a non-derogation provision (clarifies the EAA is not intended to affect constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty right rights)
     

    Continue to show the government’s commitment to aboriginal and treaty rights by amending the EAA to include a non-derogation provision to clarify that nothing in the EAA is intended to abrogate or derogate from constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights.

    We also intend to update the Consultation Code of Practice and other guidance documents to ensure that expectations are clearly outlined to promote meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and engagement with other interested persons.

    We are also proposing to make a series of administrative changes and consequential amendments to other relevant legislation. Please see attached document titled “Administrative amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act and Consequential amendments” for more detail.

What else are we doing?

In addition to the proposed amendments to EAA introduced through the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, we are consulting on proposed changes for projects and activities that have requirements under the Environmental Assessment Act, including:

Consultation

On April 25, 2019, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (ministry) released a discussion paper to consult Ontarians on a modern vision for the EA program.

The proposal to amend the EAA, was informed by feedback received during the comment period for the discussion paper.

The Bill, if passed, will amend the EAA to enable changes to modernize Ontario’s EA program. The amendments are intended to be phased in over time to allow for the modernization of the EA program through new regulations which will be developed in consultation with the public, stakeholders and Indigenous communities, while maintaining environmental oversight now and in the future.

The ministry will be consulting on regulations that will be developed at a later date if these changes to amend the Environmental Assessment Act are passed.

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