The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the Act) defines a screening as “an environmental assessment that is conducted pursuant to section 18 and that includes a consideration of the factors set out in subsection 16(1)”.
Section 18 of the Act stipulates that a responsible authority “shall ensure that a) a screening of the project is conducted; and b) a screening report is prepared”. A screening report is defined in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as “a report that summarizes the results of a screening”. Consequently, a key assumption of this study is that a screening report should also include a consideration of the factors listed in subsection 16(1) of the Act.
Sections 20 and 38 of the Act respectively set out requirements related to ensuring the implementation of mitigation measures and considering the need for, designing and ensuring the implementation of follow-up programs. These requirements come into effect once the responsible authority takes a course of action after taking into account the screening report and related comments from the public. Consequently, there is no legal requirement to address those considerations in the screening report. Nevertheless, addressing those issues in the screening report would be most appropriate, and consequently they have been included among the indicators of quality.
This study involved the development and testing of a framework of 16 high-level indicators whereby screening reports demonstrate that the underlying screening was in compliance with the Act or met a certain standard of quality. Five indicators specifically addressed compliance with the Act, and the remaining 11 addressed various aspects of the quality of the underlying screening-level assessment.
Indicators 1 to 5 deal with demonstrating compliance with the Act. The paragraphs of the Act to which the criteria pertain are indicated in brackets.
Any indication in a screening report that the factor in question had been considered was interpreted as evidence of compliance. All statements were taken at face value, and no attempt was made to obtain or analyze information that would corroborate those statements.
Indicator 1: Consideration of environmental effects of project [paragraph 16(1)(a)]
The screening report describes environmental effects of the project (excluding effects associated with potential malfunctions or accidents, and cumulative effects)
Indicator 2: Consideration of malfunctions and accidents [paragraph 16(1)(a)]
The screening report describes the effects of possible malfunctions and accidents, or alternatively, demonstrates or explicitly states that such effects are either trivial or not realistically possible.
Indicator 3: Consideration cumulative environmental effects [paragraph 16(1)(a)]
The screening report describes the environmental effects of the project in combination with other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out (cumulative effects), or alternatively, demonstrates or explicitly states that such effects are either trivial or not realistically possible.
Indicator 4: Consideration of significance of environmental effects [paragraph 16(1)(b)]
The screening report identifies which effects of the project are significant, or alternatively, demonstrates or explicitly states that there are no significant effects.
Indicator 5: Consideration measures to mitigate significant adverse environmental effects [paragraph 16(1)(d)]
The screening report describes measures to mitigate any identified significant adverse environmental effects of the project. In those far more common situations where significant adverse environmental effects (without mitigation) are not identified, but mitigation measures are nevertheless specified, the indicator is deemed to apply implicitly.
Indicators 6 to 16 address the quality of the screening report itself. Application of these criteria necessarily implies a certain element of subjectivity. Therefore, for purposes of ensuring consistency, an effort has been made to describe each indicator in as objective terms as possible.
Indicators 6 to 8 are based on the idea that the reader of the screening report needs to be provided with certain minimum contextual information regarding the project, the environment in which it is situated, and surrounding projects and activities in order to understand the screening report. In the case of screenings of very simple projects, the needed context may be minimal. In the case of screenings of complex projects, it may be necessary to provide information of considerable variety and detail.
Indicator 6: Adequate project description
The screening report provides a description of the nature, timing and location of the project components and stages sufficient to enable the reader to understand interactions between the project and its biophysical and human environment. It is not necessary or desirable to describe elements of the project that do not come into play in the analysis.
Indicator 7: Adequate environmental description
The screening report provides a description of the physical and biophysical components of the environment (e.g., air, surface and subsurface water, terrain, vegetation, fish and wildlife) sufficient to enable the reader to understand interactions between the project and the described elements of the environment.
Indicator 8: Adequate description of potentially relevant past, present and future projects or activities
The screening report provides a description of other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out in the vicinity of the project. This description is sufficient to enable the reader to understand potential interactions between the project and those other projects and activities, and any related cumulative effects implications.
Indicators 9 to 11 address expectations surrounding public participation in screenings and how the results of that activity should be reflected in the screening report. The Ministerial Guideline on Assessing the Need for and Level of Public Participation in Screenings under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, along with its associated Public Participation Guide, have influenced the selection of indicators.
Indicator 9: Documentation of basis for determining whether or not to consult the public
This indicator pertains to the responsible authority’s determination under subsection 18(3) of the Act as to whether public participation in the screening of a project is appropriate in the circumstances. It is based on subsection 7.1.3 of the Ministerial Guideline on Assessing the Need for and Level of Public Participation in Screenings under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which calls for documentation of the basis on which the responsible authority made its “determination of whether or not to consult the public”.
Indicator 10: Direct or indirect public input to screening
The screening report provides information on any efforts made by the responsible authority, another relevant jurisdiction or the proponent to obtain public input either directly or indirectly (e.g., through records of prior consultations on related matters).
It should be noted that this indicator provides only factual information about whether public input was sought; such action is not appropriate in every case.
Indicator 11: Reflection of public input in screening report
The screening report demonstrates how any input received directly or indirectly from the public during the conduct of the screening was taken into account in the conduct of the screening. It should be noted that this indicator is not meant to address comments received from the public after a screening report is made available to the public in accordance with paragraph 18(3)(b) of the Act.
The Act requires a consideration of “the environmental effects of the project”. It also requires a consideration of “any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result from the project in combination with other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out”. In neither case, however, does it give any indication of quality standards for considering such effects.
The previously described Indicators 1 and 3 deal solely with compliance with the Act, in relation to the consideration of project environmental effects and cumulative environmental effects, respectively. Simple statements about environmental effects and simple graphical depictions of interactions between project elements and environmental components would satisfy the requirements of the Act, even if they were not backed up by more detailed qualitative or quantitative analysis.
Indicators 12 and 13 address the quality of treatment of environmental effects in the screening report. A higher quality of treatment implies the existence of at least some qualitative or quantitative analysis backing up the important conclusions reached, or an explanation of why such analysis is not warranted.
Indicator 12: Analysis of site-specific project environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted
The screening report goes beyond simply listing or tabulating environmental components that will be adversely affected by the project, and provides some site-specific, qualitative or qualitative analysis of project environmental effects. Where such analysis is not warranted, an explanation is given as to why this is the case (e.g., effects are so trivial that their analysis would be meaningless).
Indicator 13: Analysis of cumulative environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted
The screening report provides some qualitative or qualitative analysis of cumulative effects or the rationale for why it was not appropriate to analyze cumulative environmental effects (e.g., no adjacent projects or activities that the project could interact with)
Indicators 14 and 15 address how mitigation measures are handled in screening reports.
Indicator 14: Some mitigation measures tailored specifically to the project and its environmental setting
In certain situations the screening report outlines mitigation measures that are tailored to the specific environmental conditions of the site. It does not refer solely to standard types of environmental practices or to obeying applicable laws, regulations and codes of practice.
Indicator 15: Mechanisms identified for ensuring implementation of mitigation measures
Subsection 20(2) of the Act requires a responsible authority to ensure the implementation of any mitigation measure it has taken into account in taking its course of action (screening decision) under paragraph 20(1)(a) of the Act. Although this is not one of the factors listed in subsection 16(1) that must be considered in a screening report and by logical extension in a screening, it would nevertheless seem reasonable to expect the question of ensuring implementation of mitigation measures to be addressed in the screening report.
Subsection 38(1) of the Act indicates that when a responsible authority determines that a follow-up program is appropriate in the circumstances, “it shall design a follow-up program and ensure its implementation”. Although subsection 16(1) of the Act does not list this as a factor that must be considered in a screening, and by logical extension in a screening report, it would nevertheless seem reasonable to expect the question of the need for a follow-up program to be explicitly addressed in a screening report. A screening report makes predictions and proposes mitigation measures and is therefore the logical place to address any uncertainties about the screening, and whether or not a follow-up program should be undertaken to verify the accuracy of the assessment or to determine the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures.
Indicator 16: Documentation of basis for determining whether or not a follow-up program was appropriate
The screening report addresses the issue of whether or not a follow-up program should be undertaken, regardless of whether the specific term, “follow-up program”, is used in the report.