Canada Looking to Fix 2012 ‘Fixes’ to Its Own NEPA

How much environmental assessment is too much?

This fall, the Trudeau government will be winding down a review of Canada’s version of NEPA with a nationwide listening tour. Their study of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) comes in the wake of considerable (and controversial) amendments by the Harper government in 2012.  Since those amendments, only about a dozen environmental assessments have been performed pursuant to the CEAA (resulting in just one proposed project being rejected).

As Science reports it ($), that meant cutting the number of reviews down from thousands per year to a mere handful, essentially by expanding the threshold any given project or proposal must trip in order to necessitate an assessment.

This new review has stoked high hopes, too.  According to Science’s reporter,

Researchers . . . want officials to put assessments in a broader context. Some, including mining officials, argue the current process does a poor job of evaluating “cumulative impacts”— how multiple mines may affect a single river, for example. And it ignores how a project may affect Canada’s ability to meet commitments made under international pacts on climate, sustainable development, or biodiversity protection.

As we’ve noted here many times before, that is a problem shared on both sides of the 49th parallel.  It will be interesting to see how the Trudeau government strikes the balance for the CEAA between assessments that are easily triggered and end up driven by site-specific impacts versus assessments that are only triggered by truly momentous policy or project proposal, particularly those with serious climate change implications.  They are slated to finish the review and make their report in January 2017.

{Hat tip to NEPA Lab reader David Keys of Enviro-Limit for the lead!}

I teach environmental, natural resources, and administrative law at Penn State Law. Before teaching I was an enforcement lawyer at U.S. EPA. Along the way I've done work for environmental nonprofits and written a fair bit about NEPA.
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