On March 13, 2012, the federal Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development released its Report in the statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
This Report recommends a variety of meaningful changes to the CEAA that would have significant implications for resource developers in Canada. Given the federal government's express commitments to regulatory reform, it is likely that many of these recommendations will be implemented by the federal government before the next federal election.
Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development
The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (Standing Committee) was tasked in October 2011 with conducting a statutory review of the CEAA. On March 13, 2012, it released its Report setting out the Committee's observations and recommendations. The most significant findings of the Standing Committee are as follows:
The Standing Committee concluded by stating that while reforming the CEAA is a good start for environmental regulatory reform: 'The Committee encourages the federal government to implement the aforementioned reforms, and to consider potential reforms to other environmental laws'. Such laws could include the federalFisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.
Implications of the Standing Committee's Recommendations
Overall, the Standing Committee's proposed changes to the CEAA would significantly improve the efficiency and timeliness of the federal EA process. Reviews would be conducted more quickly as a result of mandatory timelines and oversight by a single 'best placed' regulator.
The designation of 'equivalent' provincial laws would reduce much of the duplication between provincial and federal EAs that are common today. Further, determining the applicability of the CEAA on the basis of a project list as opposed to the current 'trigger' approach would provide additional certainty to project proponents of the likely regulatory requirements for their projects.
Given the federal government's express commitments to regulatory reform, it is likely that many of the Standing Committee's recommendations will be implemented by the federal government before the next federal election. It is important to recognize, however, that the Standing Committee's Report contains very high-level recommendations and the ultimate success and effectiveness of those recommendations will depend on the specific legislative amendments that the federal government proposes.
Therefore, industry should monitor regulatory reform developments closely and should engage with the federal government as much as possible to influence the outcome of these efforts. In addition, industry should use the current momentum for regulatory reform to advocate for changes to other federal laws such as the federal Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act that also create regulatory uncertainty and inefficiencies for project proponents.