Before the end of November, the BC Legislative Assembly is expected to consider a forthcoming piece of legislation proposing changes to the province's Environmental Assessment (EA) process. Draft legislation has not yet been published, but must be introduced and debated prior to November 29 if the EA "revitalization" effort is to stay on schedule.
If passed, regulation to bring the legislation into force will be promulgated, leading to EA process changes in late 2019.
According to the Province's Intentions Paper, the changes to the EA process will include the following, if and as such changes are approved in legislative action:
- The Reviewable Projects Regulation (RPR), which determines what projects automatically require an EA, is likely to be changed. Revised thresholds may take into account a project's potential to result in adverse effects, a shift from current thresholds that are focused on production capacity. Specific geographic areas may be singled out for "specific triggers and thresholds." (p. 6)
- A process for Regional Assessments (RAs) would be introduced, to complement provincial EA for projects in specific locations. (p. 7)
- A process for Class Assessments (CAs) would be introduced to streamline issuance of EAs for specific classes of projects. "Standard information requirements and certificate conditions" will apply and be available to the public. (p. 7)
- The Minister of Environment will be allowed to enter into agreements with Indigenous nations to carry out any aspect of an EA. The agreement, under certain conditions, may allow for Indigenous nations to carry out the entire EA or an agreed portion of the EA. (pp. 8-9)
- The legislation will be premised on the concept of "One Project, One Assessment." The Ministry of Environment's Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) will seek a new agreement with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC, successor to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) to allow the EAO and IAAC to enter into a shared review process and to approve "substitution" of Indigenous nations as reviewer in the EA process. (p. 10)
- Project proponents will no longer form conclusions about significance of environmental effects in their applications. The EAO's Technical Advisory Committee will advise the EAO on significance, and the EAO will issue findings in its Assessment Report at the conclusion of the EA certificate issuance process. (p. 10)
- The fee structure will be revised to support Indigenous nation participation, to make fees predictable and reasonable for project proponents, and to improve stability for the EAO in fee revenues. (p. 11)
- New public engagement processes will be included. (p. 11)
- Statutory timelines for concluding the major steps of the EA process will be legislated. (pp. 11-12)
The Province has been pursuing a program of revision or "revitalization" of the EA process since March 2018, as directed by the Premier. The stated goals of EA process revitalization are enhancing public confidence, advancing reconciliation with First Nations, and offering clear pathways to sustainable project approvals, protective of the environment. Having completed public engagement and comment period phases, the EA revitalization effort is in its final phase prior to being enacted into law.