The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) offers an updated, modern approach that responds to Canada's current economic and environmental context. It implements central elements of the Government's plan for Responsible Resource Development to modernize the regulatory system and allow for natural resources to be developed in a responsible and timely way for the benefit of all Canadians. This overview provides details of CEAA 2012 as it applies to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency).
Under CEAA 2012, an environmental assessment focuses on potential adverse environmental effects that are within federal jurisdiction, including:
An environmental assessment will consider a comprehensive set of factors that include cumulative effects, mitigation measures and comments received from the public.
Proponents must provide to the Agency a description of their proposed project if it is captured by regulations outlining projects likely to require federal environmental assessment.
Upon receipt of the proponent's complete project description, the Agency has 45 days to determine if a federal environmental assessment will be required. This determination will be based on potential for environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction. This 45-day time limit includes a 20-day period during which the public is invited to provide comments.
Designated projects that are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board automatically require an environmental assessment by those regulators. Proponents of these projects are not required to submit a project description to the Agency.
The Minister of the Environment may designate a project not identified in regulations if there is the potential for environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction or public concerns about such environmental effects.
The responsibility for conducting an environmental assessment rests with:
Within 60 days of the start of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment may refer a designated project to an environmental assessment by review panel. A review panel is composed of experts with knowledge and expertise selected to assess a designated project that may cause significant adverse environmental effects. A joint review panel may be established with another jurisdiction such as a province.
Review panels are required to hold public hearings and must do so in a manner that allows interested parties that are directly affected or that have relevant information or expertise the opportunity to participate. The panel must also consider written comments from the public and provide a summary of any comments received in its report.
A review panel submits its report and recommendations to the Minister of the Environment.
The following timelines for the government to complete its work are set by CEAA 2012:
The Minister may extend these timelines for up to three months to enable cooperation with another jurisdiction or because of circumstances that are specific to the project. The federal Cabinet can extend timelines beyond the three months.
The Minister must terminate a review panel that fails to meet its deadline, and may also terminate a review panel when he or she is of the view that it is not likely to meet its deadline. In both cases, the Agency is required to complete the environmental assessment.
Timelines apply to government and panel activities and not to the periods of time required for the proponent to gather information needed to complete the environmental assessment.
CEAA 2012 provides opportunities for public participation throughout the environmental assessment process:
Key project information and documents related to an environmental assessment are accessible to the public on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry Internet Site (CEARIS), such as:
The Minister of the Environment, if satisfied that the substantive requirements of CEAA 2012 can be met by a provincial process and if that province requests it, must allow for the substitution of the federal environmental assessment process by the provincial process. The Minister of the Environment would make a decision about the project using the environmental assessment report prepared by the province.
The federal Cabinet may exclude a designated project from application of CEAA 2012 if it determines that a province will undertake an equivalent assessment.
Cooperation and communication with Aboriginal peoples with respect to environmental assessment is a key component of CEAA 2012. The definition of "environmental effects" includes provisions that explicitly relate to Aboriginal peoples and environmental effects that cause changes to their:
Starting environmental assessments early in the planning of a project will assist the Government of Canada in discharging its legal duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate Aboriginal peoples when the Crown contemplates conduct (associated with designated projects) that might adversely impact established or potential Aboriginal and treaty rights.
To support Aboriginal engagement in environmental assessment and consultation, funding will be available through the Agency's Participant Funding program.
At the end of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment determines whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account mitigation measures that were identified during the environmental assessment. If it is determined that a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, the federal Cabinet will then decide whether these effects are justified in the circumstances. A decision statement is issued that sets out the decision and associated conditions with which the proponent must comply.
Failure to fulfill the conditions in a decision statement is a violation of CEAA 2012. Enforcement officers will verify compliance and the Minister may also seek an injunction to stop activities that violate CEAA 2012 or to prevent such violations. Contraventions of the CEAA 2012 can result in fines ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.
Follow-up programs are mandatory after all environmental assessments. These programs are intended to verify the accuracy of the predictions regarding potential environmental effects and to determine if mitigation measures are working as intended.
The Minister of the Environment has authority to establish a committee to conduct regional studies - a regional environmental assessment - for regions that are entirely composed of federal lands. The Minister may also establish a committee jointly with another jurisdiction or jurisdictions to conduct a regional study for regions outside federal lands.
For projects on federal lands that are not designated projects, CEAA 2012 requires that before federal authorities make any decision that would allow a project to proceed, they must determine whether a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Federal authorities will report annually to Parliament on the actions taken to fulfill this obligation. Projects outside Canada that receive federal funding or where the Government of Canada is the proponent are subject to this same standard.
Review panels started under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the former Act) will continue in accordance with the new provisions of CEAA 2012.
Comprehensive studies started under the former Act will continue to follow the requirements of the former Act. Those commenced after July 2010 must also be conducted in accordance with the Establishing Timelines for Comprehensive Studies Regulations (365 days of government time from the posting of the notice of commencement until posting of the comprehensive study report for public comment). For those commenced before July 2010, the comprehensive study report must be submitted to the Minister of the Environment no later than six months after the day on which CEAA 2012 came into force.
Screening-type assessments of projects designated by the Minister must be completed under the former Act within 365 days of the coming into force of CEAA 2012. Screening-type assessments of projects not designated are no longer required when CEAA 2012 comes into force.