Ensuring a timely and thorough process: The need for regional assessmentSubmitted By: Colleen Hammond December 23, 2016
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was written and enacted to aide in protecting and preserving natural resources, and to mitigate environmental impacts to within acceptable limits. The act has been modified through the years and while it was notably imperfect, it appeared Canada was firmly committed to bettering the process, until the 2012 amendments which essentially stripped the act of any real power. This review is a chance to re-invent the act, building on past successes and learning from failures.
Environmental assessment has traditionally been completed on a project-by-project basis. This approach limits the efficiency and effectiveness of the process as projects are not designed with any larger strategic plans in mind other than those related specifically to the project. To create an efficient and effective review process, the procedure needs to be frontloaded. Regional Strategic Environmental Assessments (RSEA) and Cumulative Effects Assessments (CEA) need to be completed proactively and utilized to create regional management plans. These plans can proactively address public concerns and act as guidance documents for industry when designing projects. Having a well-documented regional plan before projects are proposed will allow both government and proponents to make timelier decisions as the EA process can be guided by the regional management plan and the proponents can have an idea of regional values and design projects more in line with pre-identified needs.
There is a strong body of scholarly literature on the potential of RSEA and regional reports such as Staples and Askews (2016) that advocate for its application. It is especially important for regions experiencing sudden economic booms in the resource sector. A RSEA would lay the baseline for a management plan and reduce public anxiety and the burden of constant consultation from a barrage of new projects. It would have detailed baseline studies that could be built on during the EA process and would have the potential to reduce monitoring time frames by providing up to date base line studies on valued eco-systems, thus, reducing study time frames.
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